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Heart Disease Kills Every 34 Seconds in U.S.

Heart disease remains America’s leading cause of death, killing one American every 34 seconds, or more than 2,500 people per day. But it also remains a highly preventable disease.

The grim statistics come from the American Heart Association’s new report, “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2005 Update.” The report shows that in 2002, more than 927,000 Americans died from heart disease-related conditions, such as heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, and congenital heart defects.

The No. 2 cause of death — cancer — was far behind, with fewer than 560,000 deaths in 2002.

Heart disease-related illnesses have been the country’s deadliest conditions for more than a century. It’s been the No. 1 cause of death since 1900, except for the year 1918.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. Today, more than 70 million Americans have heart disease, including 27 million people aged 65 or older.

That number is expected to skyrocket as the nation ages. By the year 2010, heart disease will affect 40 million Americans aged 65 and older, predicts the AHA.

Senior citizens aren’t the only ones with heart problems. Troubling trends have also surfaced in much younger generations.

Heart disease kills more than 150,000 Americans per year under the age of 65.

And heart disease risk factors — high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, smoking, and inactivity — are becoming more common. Almost 28 percent of American adults have two or more heart disease risk factors. That’s up from about 24 percent in 1991. That’s not surprising, considering the dramatic rise in obesity and diabetes during that time.

Even teenagers are vulnerable.

About a million American teens have “metabolic syndrome,” says the AHA. That’s about 4 percent of all U.S. teens.

Metabolic syndrome isn’t heart disease, but it’s a red flag of future heart problems. Symptoms include excess body fat (especially around the waist), high levels of blood fats called triglycerides, high blood pressure, and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to insulin resistance, a diabetes risk factor.

Besides the human toll, heart disease is also financially costly. In 2005, heart disease will cost America more than $393 million in direct and indirect costs, the AHA estimates.

If there is any good news about heart disease, it’s this: Many risk factors are preventable. Being active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and getting appropriate medical care can all help keep hearts healthy.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: American Heart Association, “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2005 Update.” WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “Metabolic Syndrome: Topic Overview.” News release, American Heart Association.