Experts warn there’s a heart failure epidemic in the U.S. among seniors. Deaths due to heart failure are increasing, too, especially among younger adults.
When doctors talk about an epidemic, they are describing an increase — often unexpected or very sudden — in the number of cases of an illness above what would normally be expected in a population, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) explains. And several studies show heart failure is now causing so many deaths in the U.S. that researchers are warning a heart failure epidemic is underway in this country.
When you hear the term heart failure, it may sound like a heart is failing to beat at all. Instead, it means your heart can’t fill with enough blood, or your heart muscle isn’t pumping as well as it should. Some people with the condition have both problems, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
If you have heart failure, your heart is unable to move oxygen and nutrient-carrying blood through your body as it would normally. Symptoms of this serious condition include shortness of breath during daily activities, having trouble breathing when lying down, unusual weakness and fatigue, and swelling in your feet, legs, ankles, and stomach. Although heart failure is a chronic progressive condition, medication and lifestyle changes can help with symptoms and often prolong life, according to the American Heart Association.
However, heart failure often follows a course of declining quality of life and is one of the top killer of Americans. And now researchers are sounding an alarm: The number of people with the condition has increased so dramatically over the past several years there is now a heart failure epidemic in the U.S.
The heart failure epidemic and the aging population
Causes of heart failure include heart disease, damage from heart attacks, long standing high blood pressure, and valve disease. Diabetes and obesity are also strongly associated with heart failure. And the condition is much more common in the elderly than other age groups.
In fact, heart failure is the underlying cause approximately of one in eight deaths from heart disease in the U.S., and about nine out of 10 of those deaths are in people who are 65 and older. Of course, one major contributor to the heart failure epidemic is Americans growing elderly population. But the number of elders suffering from heart failure is rising dramatically, according to a study by the Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research, published in JAMA Cardiology.
“We are now in the midst of a ‘silver tsunami’ of heart disease and heart failure,” said Jamal S. Rana, MD, PhD, chief of cardiology at Kaiser Permanente.
For their study, the Kaiser Permanente research team analyzed national data compiled by the CDC. They found more than 647,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2017, and heart failure as an underlying cause of death had skyrocketed between 2011 and 2017.
In all, after adjusting for age, the total number of deaths caused by heart failure increased almost 21 percent, according to the researchers. When that figure was coupled with the aging of the population, the investigators found the increase in the number of heart failure deaths over the course of six years was about 38 percent — evidence of a heart failure epidemic.
“The United States is now experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of older people dying from heart disease, and especially heart failure,” said Stephen Sidney, MD, senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.
“This research underscores the importance of focusing on heart health in the population of people over age 65, which grew by 10 million between 2011 and 2017 and is projected to increase by another 22 million by 2030.”
The heart failure epidemic affects younger people, too
Heart failure is not inevitable as you grow older. However, the longer you live, the greater your risk of having a health problem that contributes or causes heart failure — like a heart attack or long-standing high blood pressure — especially, if those conditions have not been adequately treated.
But other factors linked to heart failure are also taking a toll on the health of younger people and raising their risk of premature death, according to research from Northwestern University.
Surprisingly, the increase in death rates due to heart failure is most prominent among adults under the age of 65, according to research from Northwestern University. And African American men younger than 65 were found to have experienced the highest increased rate of heart failure.
What’s more, this increase in deaths from heart disease among younger people has developed despite significant advances in medical and surgical treatments for heart failure over the past 10 years, the researchers point out in their study, published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The explanation for the heart failure epidemic in younger people is apparently related to two other well-recognized epidemics in the U.S. — obesity and type 2 diabetes.
“The success of the last three decades in improving heart failure death rates is now being reversed, and it is likely due to the obesity and diabetes epidemics,” explained researcher Sadiya Khan, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Given the aging population and the obesity and diabetes epidemics, which are major risk factors for heart failure, it is likely that this trend will continue to worsen,” she added.
To lower your risk of becoming a statistic in the heart failure epidemic, work with your doctor to get and keep weight under control and to lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, keep blood sugar under control with diet, exercise, and insulin, if needed.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also lower your risk for hypertension and heart disease, two other risk factors for heart failure. If you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice, and take any prescribed medications to lower heart failure risk, too.
March 27, 2020