The hidden costs of heart disease, plus 5 ways to reduce your risk

Each year, Americans suffer about 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes, often caused by unnoticed heart conditions.

Even if these heart conditions don’t result in debilitating attacks, they can prompt pain and discomfort that make it difficult to complete daily tasks. But any person with heart disease is also at risk for another, often more private, struggle: a serious financial burden that can derail a family budget.

After a heart disease diagnosis, patients must usually pay for medications, extra doctors’ visits, and tests. If that diagnosis was made in a hospital after a heart attack or stroke, they’re also likely to be on the hook for a medical bill, even if they have insurance.

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The physical symptoms of heart disease are bad enough, but the costs can come as a big surprise. Here’s a closer look at the expenses related to heart disease — and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

Medical costs

The term “heart disease” actually describes a family of diseases, and different types have different treatment costs. But overall, direct medical costs of heart disease totaled $273 billion in 2010 and are expected to triple to $818 billion by 2030, according to the American Heart Association.

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Heart disease patients are often prescribed at least one medication and sometimes they’re prescribed several, says Dr. Robert Vogel, chair of cardiology at the University of Colorado, Denver, and co-author of heart-healthy diet book “The Pritikin Edge.” These aren’t temporary fixes. “Most heart patients, in general, will find they have to take medications from now on,” he says.

Several classes of heart drugs, including beta blockers and diuretics, have generic options that cost as little as $4 per month at some pharmacies.

However, not every drug has a generic version, and some people may not tolerate them well — and a single name-brand medication can cost hundreds each month. Examples include anticoagulants like Xarelto and Pradaxa ($350 per month each, $4,200 per year) and cholesterol medications like Crestor and Zetia (around $275 per month each, or $3,300 per year).

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If a patient is unlucky enough to land in the hospital for a heart condition, the charges can be staggering. Hospitalization for a single heart attack may cost as much as $256,000, according to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Insurance can cover some of these costs, but many of the most affordable health plans have deductibles of more than $6,000 for an individual and pay only a portion of charges after that.

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Productivity costs

In addition to paying for treatment, people with heart conditions often face “indirect costs,” including lost income. Americans lost an estimated $172 billion in wages due to heart disease in 2010, according to the AHA.

Most people who have heart conditions are able to work normally. But patients with very physical jobs might be forced to take positions that are more sedentary — which might also pay less. And changing careers is often an emotional challenge.

It can also be difficult for heart disease patients in some fields, such as sales, to compete for promotions and bonuses — especially if they frequently have to take time off of work or lose commissions due to hospitalization.

How to keep your heart healthy

There are several things you can do to keep your heart healthy and avoid preventable cardiovascular diseases, starting today. For the healthiest ticker possible, do the following:

● Avoid tobacco in any form.

● Exercise. The AHA recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of the two, at minimum.

● Eat your fruits and vegetables — at least five servings per day.

● Avoid sodium. Aim for foods with fewer milligrams of sodium than calories per serving, Vogel says. Check nutrition labels to be sure.

● Control your weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease.

If that seems like a lot, remember that small changes add up over time — and committing to a healthier heart can pay off in the long run, both physically and financially.