Despite reductions in U.S. mortality rates from heart disease over the past 34 years, the death toll remains highest in southern states, based on a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Conducted at the University of Washington, this study used national death records to analyze heart-related mortality trends from 1980 through 2014. The goal was to track differences in mortality rates by county, as heart disease rates can vary significantly by region.
The study spanned 3,110 U.S. counties and included nearly 32 million recorded deaths between 1980 and 2014.
The good news is that throughout this period, mortality rates from heart disease declined by 50%. The gap in mortality rates between counties with the highest and lowest proportion of heart-related deaths also decreased by 15%.
However, the latest data show that mortality rates from heart disease continue to vary throughout the U.S. Depending on the specific cause of death, certain counties had up to four times greater risk of heart-related deaths than others. And authors note that the largest concentration of deaths from heart disease extended from southeastern Oklahoma along the Mississippi River Valley to eastern Kentucky. The lowest cardiovascular mortality rates were found in counties surrounding San Francisco, central Colorado, northern Nebraska, central Minnesota, northeastern Virginia and southern Florida.
Authors also note that certain heart conditions were clustered in specific areas of the United States. For example, mortality associated with an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation was especially common in the Northwest, while aortic aneurisms were more common in the Midwest.
Findings suggest that continued efforts are needed to address the “stroke belt” in the South, where heart disease is especially common. While mortality rates have decreased, heart disease remains the leading killer of Americans and is especially common in certain U.S. states and counties. By targeting public heart efforts in the areas that need it most, experts hope to continue to reduce mortality from heart disease and improve cardiovascular health across the United States.