Heart Attack Rates Fall, But Gains May Be Short-Lived : Shots - Health News The use of medicines to reduce heart attack risks appears to be working. But the gains are at risk as obesity and diabetes rise.
NPR logo Heart Attack Rates Decline, But Obesity And Diabetes Could Reverse Trend

Heart Attack Rates Decline, But Obesity And Diabetes Could Reverse Trend

All those medicines so many people are taking to reduce their risk of heart attack seem to be working.

A study from the Kaiser Permanente health system in Northern California found that heart attack rates peaked about 10 years ago and have declined pretty steadily ever since — for a 24 percent drop overall.

About 287 people per 100,000 had heart attacks in 2000. By 2008, the rate had dropped to 208 heart attacks per 100,000. Deaths from heart attacks also declined.

What's going on?

Well, over the same period, the use of drugs to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased quite a bit. Those medicines reduce the risk of having a heart attack in the first place and also may reduce the severity of the event for some people.

The proportion of studied patients meeting blood pressure goals increased to 80 percent in 2008 from 40 percent in 1999; the average bad cholesterol level for people with cholesterol problems fell about 12 percent.

The results appear in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

But the gains could be shortlived. An accompanying commentary points out that in the last decade the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has increased by almost a percentage point. Over the same period, obesity has increased by three percentage points.

Overall, there's a battle between the good news and bad news about heart risks. As the editorial writers put it:

These trends suggest that we are succeeding in some areas by reducing the burden of modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol levels, but that our society's diabetes and obesity problems are worsening.