It may still be the number one killer in the United States, but significant progress is being made in the battle against heart disease. A new study has found that hospitalizations and subsequent deaths related to heart disease or stroke have declined rapidly in the last two decades. Score one for medical technology.

The research had scientists looking at the health records of 34 million people 65 and older who had been sent to the hospital for various reasons. Researchers looked at the time period between 1999 and 2011. Over the time period, the study found that the rate of hospitalization for heart disease, heart attacks and stroke declined by about 30 percent.

Those that were hospitalized with cases related to heart disease had a 23 percent lower risk of dying within a year. Heart failure or stroke patients had a 13 percent lower risk of dying. The drop in hospitalization rates was the most pronounced out of all other conditions.

Lead author Dr. Harlan Krumholz was pleased that the drop was due to patient and doctor action and not a miracle clinical advancement. “Interestingly, these improvements happened in a period when there were no real ‘miracle’ clinical advancements. Huge strides in lifestyle, quality of care and prevention strategies for cardiovascular health have seemed to have a ripple effect on saving lives.”

The biggest advancement over that period of time was the lifestyle changes among the public. Proactive patients became the norm with a decline in smoking rates and a big push into heart-healthy activities. Early treatment for high blood pressure became standard protocol, and the rise of statin use contributed.

While the research paints an improving picture, there is still a lot left to be done. Preventive measures such as an attack on the obesity epidemic could further collapse the rate of heart disease. It still kills about 600,000 Americans every year, and 720,000 have heart attacks.

Studies show that over a quarter of those cases are preventable, and more studies should be conducted to get better treatment protocols. As for the individual, your health is in your hands a lot of the time. Do all the preventative measures and we may be sitting around with a bunch of 100-year old baby boomers.

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