Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and, thanks to the aging population in the country, that trend is likely to continue, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Cardiology.
Heart disease actually refers to several conditions, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and angina, among others. Collectively, they kill more than 600,000 Americans annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the JAMA Cardiology study, researchers affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare insurance provider that serves much of the western U.S., sought to assess the impact of a key population trend -- the growing numbers of Americans who are 65 years of age and older -- on heart disease-related mortality.
The researchers analyzed CDC data on deaths across all 50 states, focusing on an 18-year period from 2000 through 2017. Given that age is a significant risk factor for heart disease, they evaluated these numbers against U.S. Census figures, which indicate that the number of Americans 65 years and older increased from 41.4 million in 2011 to 50.9 million in 2017, and is expected to grow to 73.1 million by 2030.
Overall, the rate of heart disease-related deaths has declined within the general population, by 5 percent between 2011 and 2017. However, the total number of deaths attributable to these conditions actually increased, by 8.5 percent, during the same period, because of the increase in older Americans.
For example, when combined with the 22.9 percent growth in the population of adults aged 65 years and older, the Kaiser Permanente team noted a 38 percent increase in the number of deaths with heart failure as the underlying cause.
"The rate of decline of heart disease mortality is simply not keeping up with the rate of population growth in the age group in which most heart disease mortality occurs," study co-author Stephen Sidney, director of research clinics at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, told UPI. "In the absence of interventions to decrease the occurrence of and mortality from heart disease and heart failure, the number of deaths will continue to increase because of the vigorous growth in the 65 years and older population."
The analysis did reveal some good news. The age-adjusted mortality rate for coronary heart disease, a condition in which the arteries that pump blood to the heart become clogged as a result of high cholesterol, declined by nearly 15 percent over the study period.
However, mortality rates for other, less common heart diseases increased by 8.4 percent over the same time.
"We need to increase prevention efforts [for heart disease]," Dr. Sidney said. "The major risk factors for heart [disease] are hypertension, diabetes and obesity. The American Heart Association established metrics for cardiovascular health known as Life's Simple 7, which includes, among other things, maintaining a good physical activity level, healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a normal weight and blood pressure."