PhotoIf there were things you could do to keep from dying of a stroke or heart attack, would you do them?

It's not a rhetorical question. Fortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are actions you can take.

A new CDC report says there were more than 200,000 preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke in the United States in 2010, with more than half the people dying under the age of 65.

The Vital Signs report looked at preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke defined as those that occurred in people under age 75 that could have been prevented by more effective public health measures, lifestyle changes or medical care.

Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, kill nearly 800,000 Americans each year; that's one in three deaths. However, the report notes that most cardiovascular disease can be managed or prevented in the first place by addressing risk factors.

Who is at risk?

While the number of preventable deaths has declined in people aged 65 to 74 years, it has remained unchanged in people under age 65. Men are more than twice as likely as women -- and blacks twice as likely as whites -- to die from preventable heart disease and stroke.

“Despite progress against heart disease and stroke, hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from these preventable causes of death,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Many of the heart attacks and strokes that will kill people in the coming year could be prevented by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and stopping smoking.”

The report pointed out these factors regarding about the risk of preventable death from heart disease and stroke:

  • Age: Death rates in 2010 were highest among adults aged 65-74 years (401.5 per 100,000 population). But preventable deaths have declined faster in those aged 65–74 years compared with those under age 65.
  • Race/ethnicity: Blacks are twice as likely -- and Hispanics are slightly less likely -- as whites to die from preventable heart disease and stroke.
  • Sex: Avoidable deaths from heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure were higher among males (83.7 per 100,000) than females (39.6 per 100,000). Black men have the highest risk. Hispanic men are twice as likely as Hispanic women to die from preventable heart disease and stroke.
  • Location: By state, avoidable deaths from cardiovascular disease ranged from a rate of 36.3 deaths per 100,000 population in Minnesota to 99.6 deaths per 100,000 in the District of Columbia. By county, the highest avoidable death rates in 2010 were concentrated primarily in the southern Appalachian region and much of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The lowest rates were in the West, Midwest, and Northeast regions.

Making progress

The overall rate of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke went down nearly 30% between 2001 and 2010, with the declines varying by age. Lack of access to preventive screenings and early treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol could explain the differences among age groups.

CDC point out that through the Affordable Care Act, more people will have access to health coverage and preventive care, including young people and other medically underserved groups.

What to do

To save more lives from these preventable deaths, doctors, nurses, and other health care providers can encourage healthy habits at every patient visit, including not smoking, increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medicines as directed.

Providers should track patient progress on the ABCS of heart health -- aspirin when appropriate, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation.

Health care systems can adopt and use electronic health records to identify patients who smoke or who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and help providers follow and support patient progress.

Communities and health departments can help by promoting healthier living spaces, including tobacco-free areas and safe walking areas. Local communities also can ensure access to healthy food options, including those with lower sodium.

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