How Close Are We Coming to Eradicating Heart Disease?

The professionals and scientists who work in the field of heart disease and those of us who are involved in the research and development of new medications for reducing heart disease all have big smiles on our face these days, as things are getting better ... much better. So the answer to the question posed as the title of our essay is ... close ... we're coming very close to eradicating heart disease. Let me explain.

First, let's review the data. In 1972, we learned for the first time that lowering blood pressure with medications reduces the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Since then, many new blood pressure medications have come to the market so that a physician today can effectively treat practically any person with high blood pressure successfully AND with generic low cost medications. In 1985, we learned for the first time that lowering blood cholesterol levels with diet and medications reduces the chance of having a heart attack and stroke. And since that time, statin medications for lowering blood cholesterol levels effectively and safely have been introduced to the market which allows physicians to successfully lower blood cholesterol levels in most all of their patients who need it AND with generic low cost medications. The only problem is that some patients cannot tolerate a statin medication and for them there is not good answer ... yet.

Also, since 1980, many other important discoveries and improvements have been made that has helped reduce heart disease. For example, think of the life style changes that have been made since then. We know a lot more about eating a heart healthy diet. We know the benefits of exercising. And many of us have stopped smoking, a big driver of heart disease. When we see our doctors, there is more emphasis on prevention steps we can take to ward of heart disease. And when we develop chest pain or other symptoms of heart disease, we have heliports to get us quickly to the nearest emergency facility, and once there we have well trained medical staff to quickly examine us, many new medications to treat and correct the underlying abnormalities, the availability of an immediate angioplasty to look at the inside of our blood vessels (if needed) and stents which can be placed in our blood vessels to restore blood flow.

So what does the report card look like from all of these improvements? According to the Center for Disease Control, between 1980 and 2000 we saw the number of deaths from heart disease cut in half. And between 2000 and 2010, according to American Heart Association statistics, death rates from heart disease and strokes have fallen another 31%. Also, during that time, the average "bad" cholesterol level in Americans has dropped from 120 to 105. These are truly phenomenal accomplishments. Over all, heart disease has been cut by over 65% in the past 3 decades. We are making great progress.

But before you do many high fives, there is a down side. Some Americans ... no, make that many Americans ... are not eating right or being physically active. In fact, so many people are not adopting healthy lifestyles that the rate of obesity is increasing at epidemic proportions and along with it new diagnoses of diabetes are occurring at an alarming rate, even in young children. These two problems have actually cut the gains we have made in preventing heart disease by 18%, a percent that is expanding each year.

So there is our challenge. More Americans need to make better, smarter food choices and engage in increased physical activity. Oh yes, there are pills being developed for both of these problems and they will be effective. But this is actually something we can all control without medication. Eating right and being physically active will result in weight loss and weight loss can and will prevent diabetes ... if we do it.