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What you should know about heart disease

February 23, 2016 | Patricia Harriman
Nurse listening to patient's heart

The American Heart Association gauges the cardiovascular health of the nation by tracking the health behaviors and factors that increase risks for heart disease and stroke. Here are the latest facts and figures from the AHA’s 2016 Heart Disease Update.

The good news: Between 2003 and 2013, the death rate from heart disease has fallen about 38 percent. 

The bad news: The risk factors for heart disease among Americans remain alarmingly high.

Heart smart habits

Lifestyle habits are essential to preventing heart disease. The critical factors are:

Although rates of smoking have declined to just under 17 percent from just over 20 percent between 2003 and 2013, trends for physical activity and healthy diet have not improved. The result is that most Americans older than 20 — 69 percent — are overweight or obese.

Three numbers for heart health

For heart health, the most important three numbers to be aware of are cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

  • Total cholesterol: Should be no higher than 200 mg/dL. Total cholesterol for a majority of Americans — 56 percent — is higher. Nearly one of every three Americans has high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). About 20 percent of Americans have low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind). Ask your doctor where your LDL cholesterol level should be.
  • Blood sugar: Numbers are on the rise, with about 9 percent of the adult population having been diagnosed with diabetes. The concern here is that diabetes rates are growing, with an estimated 35 percent of Americans having been diagnosed as pre-diabetic.
  • Blood pressure: Most Americans have their blood pressure under control, with only 33 percent of adults at rates higher than 140/90 mm Hg.

Room for improvement

These numbers and trends demonstrate the substantial progress that needs to be made for the AHA to reach its goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and strokes by 20 percent, by the year 2020.

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