As the local sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center is invested in educating women on their risk factors of heart disease and stroke. According to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, deaths from heart disease have declined dramatically over the last few decades; but, young people, particularly women, are not sharing equally in that improvement.
Using data on adults age 25 and older, researchers tracked annual percentage changes in heart disease death rates between three time periods: 1979-1989, 1990-1999, and 2000-2011. Death rates in adults 65 and over declined consistently over the decades, with accelerating improvements since 2000.
In contrast, men and women under age 55 showed clear declines in annual death rates between 1979 and 1989 — down 4.6 percent in women and 5.5 percent in men — but then improvement slowed. The annual change in death rates in young women showed no improvement between 1990 and 1999 and has only fallen one percent since 2000. Death rates in young men fell 1.2 percent between 1990 and 1999 and 1.8 percent since 2000.
“We think that these trends are not related to differences in treatment and hospitalization, but rather to a lack of effective preventive strategies for young people, particularly women,” said Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and professor and chair of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia. “This population has not been studied as much as older groups, partially because they are generally considered to be at low risk.”
Although younger women may be considered lower risk, Go Red for Women, OSF St. Joseph, and HeartCare Midwest want to encourage women to know their risks and regularly see their doctor.
“Younger women tend to see their OB-GYN doctor as their primary physician and may not have a true understanding of their actual risk for having heart attacks and strokes,” said Yogesh Agarwal, Cardiologist at HeartCare Midwest at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. “I think they should see a general internist or family practitioner on a regular basis to address this and discuss preventative strategies.”
Women should know non-modifiable risk factors of heart disease like age, gender, and family history, as well as modifiable risk factors such as physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Escalating rates of diabetes and obesity in younger adults could also contribute to the lack of improvement.
Researchers may need to look beyond traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol to improve heart disease prevention in adults under age 55, researchers suggest.