Heart Disease

Contrary to popular misconceptions, heart disease is not only a disease of men. In America, heart disease is the leading killer of men and women alike. Despite all that medical science knows about how to prevent this disease, the latest statistics show that over 954,000 people died of diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease) in the United States alone in 1994, up from 925,000 in 1992. Every 33 seconds an American dies of cardiovascular disease. Since 1900 the number one killer in the United States has been cardiovascular disease in every year but one (1918). When an airline crashes in the U.S. and hundreds of people die, the news is filled with this top story for days. In-depth analysis is performed and broadcast regarding the possible cause of the crash and how it might have been prevented. Consider that approximately 2600 deaths, many of them as sudden as in an airline crash, occur each day in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease alone. This is greater than 10 jumbo jet crashes per day. Yet, these deaths do not even make the news broadcasts except when a famous person dies from a heart attack, and then if the disease is mentioned at all, it is only as an afterthought, as if it was inevitable. The number one cause of death deserves more thorough attention in America.

Sadly, deaths only tell part of the story of this dreadful disease. Of the current U.S. population of about 258 million, more than 57 million people have some form of this disease. The annual cost to America for diseases of the heart and blood vessels is an astounding 259.1 billion dollars, which includes not only the medical and surgical treatment, but also lost productivity in the work force. If you personally happen to survive a stroke, the average lifetime cost in medical bills and lost earnings will be $103,576. How much better to prevent a stroke or a heart attack than to pay for one and still suffer the diminished quality of life that is almost certain to follow! No wonder Clyde Yancy, M.D., president of the American Heart Association´s Dallas division and researching cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said recently, "No matter where somebody is in their maturity process, young, middle-aged, or old, incorporating a heart-healthy lifestyle is the most cost effective thing that can be done right now." Not only is it cost effective, but even more important will likely be life saving, and certainly will be life-enhancing!

How can the number of heart attacks be reduced? What can a person do to reduce the risk of a heart attack? Dr. Ivan Gyarfas, Chief of the World Health Organization´s Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program, explains that prevention measures could save a significant number of people from premature death: "About twelve million people die [worldwide] every year of heart problems, but up to half of them could be saved if better prevention programs were in effect." Although better prevention programs could cut deaths due to heart disease (especially coronary heart disease) by about 50 percent, evidence suggests that optimal prevention programs could cut heart disease deaths by as much as 90 percent. In short, although heart disease is by far the number one cause of death in America, it does not need to be. Nine out of ten heart attacks may be preventable!

There are some factors that influence our risk of heart disease that we can do nothing about. For example, age and sex cannot be changed, yet they have a significant bearing on cardiovascular risk. The older we are, the greater our risk. Similarly, men are at higher risk than women of the same age?particularly in the years before menopause. Fortunately, however, medical research demonstrates that we can change a number of factors that influence our risk of heart disease. The three most important modifiable heart disease risk factors are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Addressing all three can make a considerable impact, as was illustrated by a study of some 29,000 Finnish men and women over a 20-year period (1972 to 1992). When these individuals lowered the cholesterol in their diets, lowered their blood pressure, and stopped their tobacco use, they reduced their heart attack risk by more than half, as shown in figure.

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- Proof Positive by Neil Nedley