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For Shamard Charles, M.D.
A surprising new report finds that nearly half of all Americans (121 million adults) have some form of heart disease, a significant increase in the last three years. Although this alarming number, published Thursday by the American Heart Association, is mainly due to changes in blood pressure guidelines: it is a warning about our increasingly sedentary lives, say the doctors of the heart.
In 2017, hypertension, an important risk factor for heart disease, was redefined by the Heart Association as an arterial pressure of 130/80, reducing it to 140/90. This change meant that millions of Americans between 20 and 60 years of age were considered as a heart disease.
"As one of the most common and dangerous risk factors for heart disease and stroke, this overwhelming presence of high blood pressure can not be ruled out of the equation in our fight against cardiovascular diseases, "said Dr. Ivor J. Benjamin, volunteer president of the American Heart Association and director of the Cardiovascular Center of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, in a statement.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US that claims more than 840,000 lives per year. After decades of constant decline, the deaths increased by nearly 4,000 cases between 2015 and 2016.
"It's an amazing amount, but it's not surprising, given the rise in prevalence of obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyle," said Dr. Jennifer Haythe, co-director of the Center of Women for Cardiovascular Health in New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University Medical Center. "The hope is that the numbers are surprising people to change their lifestyle and that people come to the doctor to evaluate some of their cardiovascular risk factors."
Eighty percent of all cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by not smoking, controlling high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, along with regular exercise and healthy eating.
The hope is that the numbers are surprising people to change their lifestyles.
Hypertension increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and many other problems. Only half of people with hypertension have it under control, according to research.
The leading cardiologist, Dr. Steven Nissen, advocates that findings do not necessarily mean that heart disease in the U.S. gets worse. In general terms, the deaths attributed to heart disease have decreased by 17.7% in the United States during the last decades, largely due to the decrease in smoking rates.
"What has happened is that the 120 million Americans mentioned here reflect a growing number of patients with hypertension based on a change in blood pressure guidelines," said Nissen, president of the Cleveland Cardiovascular Medicine Department Clinic "Despite the claims of the study, we have made substantial progress in the field and the coronary artery disease has decreased significantly in recent decades."
A diagnosis of hypertension does not automatically mean that medication is needed or that someone really has a coronary artery disease, a common type of cardiopathy where the arteries that supply blood to the heart are fattened and restricted.
"An arterial pressure of 130/80 is an important reminder for using lifestyle changes. These are risk factors that we can complete control, such as diabetes, tobacco and diet," said Dr. Leslie Cho, cardiologist and director of the Cleveland Clinic Women's Cardiovascular Center.
"If you reduce body weight, you can lower your blood pressure by approximately 8 [blood pressure points], and here we do not talk about hundreds of pounds. We're just talking about 5% of body weight, "he added.
How to reduce the risk of heart disease
Regular physical activity and the following diets based on plants such as DASH, a meal plan that emphasizes fruit, vegetables and whole grains, show that they protect the heart.
Not all patients have the same optimum goals, but it is important to know blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol numbers, Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, a cardiovascular disease professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, told NBC News by email.
Haythe believes that the public health message of the report is important.
"48% of people will not die from a heart attack," Haythe said. "But the report shows that there is an increase in the prevalence of the risk of coronary heart disease and stresses the importance of managing these risk factors with lifestyle changes and a proper treatment."