By Claire Yuan, Copy Editor
As medicine and technology have progressed in the past decades, many once-feared diseases have become easily preventable and treatable, improving quality of life and life expectancy globally. Despite the immense progress, though, heart disease has retained its title as the leading cause of death for over a hundred years; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database names “diseases of the heart” as the leader in the list of causes of death as early as 1910.
In more recent history, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that around 7 million people died in 2000 due to heart disease. Only 16 years later, that number jumped up to over 9 million global deaths. Heart disease impacts a vast range of people, too, as the leading cause of death for women, men, and most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
So, why is it that heart disease is such a persistent killer? As it turns out, there are several factors at play. First, the improvement of medical technologies such as vaccines and antibiotics has allowed health conditions like pneumonia, tuberculosis, digestive diseases to be staved off, highlighting the impact of heart disease instead. So, on some levels, the increased force of heart disease comes as other diseases are better treated or avoided altogether.
In addition, heart disease has been further highlighted by improving economic conditions and increased urbanization. In earlier times when pestilence and famine were more commonplace, many deadly forms of heart disease were attributed to infection and malnutrition. With greater food availability and wealth, improved nutrition and decreased infant mortality rates can lead to fewer deaths caused by starvation or malnutrition.
Relatedly, with more wealth also comes daily habits that prove detrimental to cardiovascular health. For example, the transition from labor-intensive work to office jobs and poor diet choices can hurt the heart. The proliferation of cheaper and more sugary, fat-dense foods that increase caloric intake have generally not been balanced out by increased physical activity to burn those extra calories. Furthermore, behaviors such as smoking, although typically associated with lung cancer, can have adverse impacts on the cardiovascular system.
Treatment for heart diseases can also be incredibly expensive, costing the United States nearly one billion dollars per day. Various surgeries, medicines, therapies, and palliative care, if needed, can present significant financial strain on the patients and their families.
Fortunately, heart disease is among some of the most preventable health conditions. Monitoring and addressing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and obesity can help prevent heart disease. Many of these symptoms are either self-identifiable or can be measured at primary care facilities. Then, appropriate treatments and preventative measures can be recommended by medical professionals.
Though heart disease, in all its various forms, remains the leading cause of death globally, the reasons behind that infamous title may be due to positive socioeconomic developments that have prevented other potentially deadly health issues. Still, being mindful of daily habits and consulting medical professionals about potential family history and risk are important aspects of heart disease prevention.