Heart Disease Death Rates Drop, But Remains Top Killer in US

Researcher in lab

Jack Rubinstein, MD, shown in his lab in the College of Medicine.

While death rates from heart disease have dropped steadily during the past 30 years it still remains the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a University of Cincinnati researcher.
“We are making great progress and it is related to many things including investment in public health, an increase in physical activity, better medications and more awareness, but unfortunately heart disease is still number one in a bad way,” says Jack Rubinstein, MD, an associate professor in the UC Department of Internal Medicine and a UC Health cardiologist.
More than 610,000 Americans die of heart disease annually—that’s one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease remains the top killer of both men and women in the U.S., reports the CDC.
Rubinstein says exercise is among the best defenses against heart disease.
“Most of the evidence shows that almost any kind of exercise is good,” says Rubinstein. “If you compare somebody who sits all day to someone who walks say five minutes, the person who walks is going to do a little bit better in terms of outcomes.
“What I tell my patients is that exercising, three or four times a week, at least 30-minutes daily and breaking a sweat is helpful,” says Rubinstein.
Area cardiologists are hoping to call special attention to heart disease because February is American Heart Month, declared as such by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to highlight the importance of cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association and Go Red for Women also celebrate National Wear Red Day on February 3, to raise awareness of heart disease and its impact on women.
Richard Becker, MD, director and physician-in-chief of the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute, adds that maintaining a diet low in fat, salt and calories and one rich in fruit, vegetables and grains is also important in preventing heart disease.
He suggests avoiding smoking and maintaining comprehensive pre-natal care for women. “Persons with high blood pressure, diabetes and/or an elevated cholesterol should be followed regularly by a primary care provider; if medication is recommended, it should be taken as prescribed,” explains Becker, who is also the Mabel Stonehill Professor of Medicine at UC.
Symptoms of heart disease may differ for men and women, says Becker. Men may experience chest pressure, shortness of breath, fatigue and decreased stamina, while women may suffer indigestion, lightheadedness, impaired sleep and sadness or anxiety, says Becker.
“The medical community has recognized several things over the past decade pertaining to heart disease,” says Becker. “Women of color, particularly African-American and Hispanic women are at the highest risk of heart disease, while heart disease is being diagnosed in teenagers, particularly in adolescents with high blood pressure, obesity, inactivity and early features of diabetes.”
Becker said there is an emerging group of individuals with heart disease, who are cancer survivors and have received certain types of chemotherapy or radiation near the heart and blood vessels. Most often this group has been treated for breast cancer, lung cancer or lymphoma-cancer of the lymph glands. Individuals living with HIV are also at heightened risk for heart disease, he explains.
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