Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Heart disease remains the leading cause of death globally, and the COVID-19 pandemic likely means that will continue for the foreseeable future, according to an analysis by the American Heart Association published Wednesday in the journal Circulation.
Researchers say they expect the global burden of heart disease will grow "exponentially" over the next few years as the long-term effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic evolve.
The coronavirus has been linked with long-term heart damage and complications, which is likely to keep heart disease at the top of the list of most common causes of death.
"COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on human life worldwide and is on track to become one of the top three to five causes of death in 2020, but its influence will directly and indirectly impact rates of cardiovascular disease prevalence and deaths for years to come," study co-author Dr. Salim S. Virani said in a statement.
"We ... know people have delayed getting care for heart attacks and strokes," during the pandemic, said Virani, associate professor in cardiology and cardiovascular research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Nearly 18.6 million people died from heart disease worldwide in 2019, a number that has increased 17% over the past decade, the data showed.
And were more than 523 million cases of heart disease in 2019, a 27% increase over 2010, the researchers said.
As of Wednesday, more than 420,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, based on figures from Johns Hopkins University.
The new analysis, a 2021 Statistical Update to the American Heart Association's heart disease and stroke statistics, includes data on overall deaths in the United States for 2018 and 2019 from the National Institutes of Health, as well as global data from other sources, according to the AHA.
The annual update represents a compilation of the newest, most relevant statistics on heart disease, stroke and risk factors impacting cardiovascular health, the association said.
In addition to heart disease, pregnancy complications, including high blood pressure disorders, occur in up to 20% of all pregnancies in the United States, according to the new data.
These heart-related complications are the most common cause of maternal death nationally, at just under 27%, the researchers said.
"We must address this issue to save the lives of mothers and to improve the health of their children at birth, but also over their lifetime," Virani said.
"There can be long-term effects on offspring of women who suffer pregnancy-related complications but we can also help impact the health of future generations because as we help women learn to reduce their cardiovascular risk, they're likely to adopt healthier lifestyles," he said.