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Rates of Coronary Heart Disease Decline Nationwide, Remain High Among American Indians/Alaska Natives


While the overall number of Americans who report they have coronary heart disease, which includes heart attack and angina (chest pain), continues to decline, American Indians/Alaska Natives (11.6 percent) and older adults aged 65 and over (19.8 percent) still report the highest rates of the disease, according to a new report published last week in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From 2006 to 2010, the number of people in the United States who reported they have been told by a health professional they have coronary heart disease declined overall from 6.7 percent to 6 percent. The data come from CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a phone survey conducted each year of adults aged 18 and over.

The report attributes the decline to various health improvements, such as reductions in smokers, patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure and uncontrolled high blood cholesterol, along with improvements in treatments for heart disease.

Despite a significant decline, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and it disproportionately affects American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The report also notes geographic differences in self-reported coronary heart disease. In 2010, coronary heart disease prevalence ranged from lows of 3.7 percent in Hawaii and 3.8 percent in the District of Columbia to highs of 8 percent in West Virginia and 8.2 percent in Kentucky. Generally, populations in Southern states reported the highest levels of coronary heart disease.

"Where you live and how you live matters to your heart," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, in a statement.

The CDC has since launched a national initiative, Million Hearts, aimed at preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years. Million Hearts brings together communities, health systems, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and private-sector partners from across the country to fight heart disease and stroke.

"The Million Hearts national initiative, which can prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years, focuses on actions people can take themselves and actions that businesses, communities and health providers can take to prevent heart attacks and strokes today."

Million Hearts seeks to improve clinical care by helping patients learn and follow their ABCS:

  • Aspirin for people at risk
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol management
  • Smoking cessation

Fewer than half of Americans who should be taking an aspirin a day are taking one; fewer than half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control. Only 1 in 3 Americans with high cholesterol is effectively treated, and less than a quarter of Americans who smoke get help to quit when they see their doctor.

"We're all at risk for heart disease and stroke," said Jing Fang, M.D., epidemiologist with CDC's Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. "People of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities are affected. However, certain groups, including American Indians/Alaskan Natives, African Americans and older adults, are at higher risk than others."