The war on heart disease could be declared over soon.
Thanks to advancements in screenings, identifying risk factors and preventing heart disease through simple lifestyle changes, we are that close, heart experts say.
But don't start the celebrations just yet.
"I had gathered the impression that we were really winning the war on heart disease," said Dr. Marc Gillinov, a Cleveland Clinic heart surgeon and co-author (with colleague Steven Nissen) of the new heart-health guidebook, Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need (Three Rivers Press; $19.99). "The media reports were based on scientific studies showing the risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease had decreased substantially in that last 15 to 20 years -- by 25 to 30 percent."
Indeed, hospital admissions for heart attacks among the elderly decreased by nearly a quarter during the last decade, according to Medicare data.
But the upbeat report comes with a caveat.
Gillinov, in his research, learned that more than a million people in America are still having heart attacks, nearly 800,000 of which are first-time attacks and half a million are repeat attacks.
"I've learned not to count the battle won just yet," Gillinov said.
Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death for U.S. men and women, according to the American Heart Association, which reported recently risk factors for heart disease and attack are on the rise. A third of all adults are obese with body mass indexes greater than 30 and report no aerobic activity. Childhood obesity has increased five-fold since the early 1980s with Hispanic boys and black girls leading the gains.
Most sudden deaths in young college-age athletes were related to cardiovascular disease, the AHA report stated, with the incidence of cardiac arrest tending to be higher among blacks than whites and among men than women.
"I call it the 'sickest generation,' '' said Dr. Arthur Agatston, who recently joined Baptist Health Medical Group as medical director of wellness and prevention for Baptist Health South Florida. Agatston has added to his empire of South Beach Diet books with the new The South Beach Wake-Up Call: Why America Is Still Getting Fatter and Sicker, Plus 7 Simple Strategies for Reversing Our Toxic Lifestyle (Rodale; $27.99) to address cardiac health.
"Death from heart disease has been decreasing since the 1960s and it's come down largely because of decreased smoking, good medicines for blood pressure, and more recently cholesterol. Treatment and heart attack survival rates are much longer than in the 1950s. But if you look at the youngest age groups, it's plateauing and beginning to go up in the mid-30s and mid-40s," Agatston said. "I dub it the sickest generation because they are the first video/fast food/digital generation. The bottom line is our fast food, sedentary, digital lifestyle is trumping our advances in medical science. If we don't do something about lifestyle, then it doesn't matter which healthcare system we choose. It'll be overwhelmed by chronic disease."
The upside is that a greater understanding of the role inflammation plays identifying biomarkers over the last decade has allowed doctors to better screen for heart disease and begin treatment to reverse the damage.
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