Your heart may be safer than you think

Heart-related deaths and hospitalizations are declining.

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in this country. But in an analysis of the incidence and outcomes of both kinds of ailments from 1999 through 2011, Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz ’80 and his colleagues documented something heartening.

In a big-data examination of almost 34 million Medicare Fee-for-Service patients, Krumholz’s team looked at hospitalizations, hospital readmission rates, and deaths due to these and other conditions. Their report, in the August online edition of Circulation, showed broad-based improvement in hospitalization rates. Moreover, deaths within a year of hospitalization were down 23 percent for heart attacks, 21 percent for unstable angina, and 13 percent for heart failure and strokes.

What happened? No new blockbuster drugs or medical procedures caused the improvement, Krumholz notes. Rather, the cause was better implementation of old strategies: statin drugs to lower risk, programs to curb smoking and bad eating habits, widespread screening, encouraging patients to get more exercise, and greater availability of proven hospital therapies for heart disease and stroke.

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