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Deaths, Hospitalizations from Heart Disease Fall, Stud Reports

Update Date: Aug 19, 2014 09:36 AM EDT

A new study is reporting that the United States has made "astonishing progress" on heart disease. The researchers discovered that the death and hospitalization rates caused by heart disease have fallen over the past decade.

"The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT reported by Philly. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke. Through improved quality of care, we have markedly cut down the risk of dying when you are hospitalized with these conditions."

For this report, the team examined medical data on about 34 million people who were covered by Medicare, which is the federally funded insurance program for older individuals. The researchers focused on hospitalization rates, rates of deaths that occurred within a month after hospitalization and rates of deaths within one year after hospitalization. The time frame of the study was between 1999 and 2011.

Overall, hospitalization rates fell by 38 percent from 1999 to 2011. The hospitalization rates for heart failure and stroke fell by nearly 33 percent each. The rate for unstable angina, which is sudden chest pain, dropped by 85 percent. Unstable angina can be an indicator of a heart attack. Risk of death within a year after being admitted to the hospital due to unstable angina fell by over 20 percent, while the risk of death after hospitalization for heart failure and stroke fell by 13 percent.

The researchers stated that during this time period, there was no new miracle treatments introduced onto the market. However, there was a greater use of blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications. The team concluded that the rates fell because of lifestyle changes, better treatment and more effective preventive methods. Lifestyle changes included healthy diets, more exercise, less smoking and better adherence to taking statins, which reduce one's risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.

"No one thought this kind of progress was possible in this short period of time," Krumholz said. "Heart disease is still the leading cause of death, and there is still work to be done. We've got to continue pushing this until we put all the cardiologists and neurologists out of business."

The study, "Trends in Hospitalizations and Outcomes for Acute Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke: 1999-2011," was published in the journal, Circulation.

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