Heart Disease Affects Half of US Adults, Experts Says

(CN) – Mirroring recent guideline changes for high blood pressure, almost half of American adults now have some form of heart disease, according to an American Heart Association report published Thursday.

In this Aug. 27, 2014 file photo, a laptop computer monitors a patient’s heart function as he takes a stress test while riding a stationary bike in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Michael Holahan)

The report published in the journal Circulation and based on 2016 data found that 121.5 million U.S. adults, or 48 percent, suffer from a form of cardiovascular disease, be it from a stroke or heart attack, narrowing of the arteries or an irregular heartbeat. 

The American Heart Association says the uptick could potentially be traced to November 2017, when the association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension. The previous definition was a reading of 140/90 millimeters of mercury. New guidelines define high blood pressure as 130 over 80.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and science at the University of California, Los Angeles, says many Americans may be unaware that they have high blood pressure, and that treatment and management can lead to positive outcomes. 

“High blood pressure is a major modifiable risk factor for heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and premature cardiovascular death. Achieving and maintaining a healthy blood pressure level can markedly lower the risk of these cardiovascular events for men and women, young and old, and all race-ethnic backgrounds,” Fonarow said in a statement.

Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the world but the report suggests Americans are making progress. It notes, however, an increase in the number of adolescents who use e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine. Studies have shown that nicotine can lead to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and narrowing of the arteries, according to the association.

The update found that Americans are exercising more but that 39.6 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and 18.5 percent of youth are obese.

Dr. Emelia Benjamin is a professor of cardiology at Boston University and was part of the group that wrote the update. She noted that severe obesity among younger people is still a concern.

“It’s a deeply disturbing condition and we have to ask, ‘What can we do about this?’” Benjamin told the association. 

The report recommends seven steps to reduce the risk of heart disease. These include regular exercise, a healthy diet, weight loss, quitting or abstaining from smoking, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar at healthy levels. 

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