The rates of U.S. hospitalizations and deaths from heart disease and stroke dropped significantly in the last decade, more so than for any other condition, according to a study released Monday in the journal Circulation

A research team led by Harlan Krumholz, M.D., national American Heart Association volunteer and director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, said the drop was mainly due to a steady increase in the use of evidence-based treatments and medications, as well as a growing emphasis on heart-healthy lifestyles and behaviors.

The study examined data on nearly 34 million Medicare Fee-For-Service recipients from 1999 to 2011 for trends in hospitalization, dying within a month of being admitted, being admitted again within a month and dying during the following year. Age, sex, race, other illnesses and geography also were considered.

“These findings are very gratifying and a wonderful testament to the work of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and others dedicated to reducing the burden of heart disease and stroke,” said Elliott Antman, M.D., American Heart Association president and professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

By the end of 2011, the study found that hospitalization rates among all races and areas dropped 38 percent for heart attack; 83.8 percent for unstable angina, sudden chest pain often leading to heart attack; 30.5 percent for heart failure; and 33.6 percent for ischemic stroke.

Risks of dying for people who went to the hospital within a year decreased about 21 percent for unstable angina, 23 percent for heart attacks and 13 percent for heart failure and stroke.

Researchers also noted improvements in identifying and treating high blood pressure, a rapid rise in the use of statins, marked declines in smoking and more timely and appropriate treatment for heart attack patients as contributing to the declines in deaths and hospitalizations.

Antman said the AHA’s funding of life-saving research, development of treatment and prevention guidelines, professional education and training, CPR and AED training, hospital certification and quality improvement programs, work in multi-cultural communities, development of consumer resources and advocating for healthier communities as contributions to helping build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

“We’ve learned much through research over the years, and seeing that put into practice through medical intervention, systems of care and personal behavior changes is very rewarding,” Antman said. “But there’s more work to be done because heart disease and stroke still exact a substantial toll on our personal lives, our healthcare system, and our country’s economy.”

That’s where the American Heart Association’s 2020 goal comes in — to improve the heart health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

A key component of that is preventing heart disease and stroke through what the AHA calls “Life’s Simple 7”: health measures and behaviors that are critical to avoiding disease: not smoking, healthy diet, physical activity, healthy body weight, and control of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

To find out where you stand with the Simple Seven goals, just take the My Life Check assessment.

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