Heart Disease Deaths Spiked During COVID

Nov. 29, 2022 – Deaths from heart disease and stroke among adults living in the United States have been on the decline since 2010. But the COVID-19 pandemic reversed that downward trend in 2020, new research shows. 

It was as if COVID had wiped out 5 years of progress, pushing rates back to levels seen in 2015, the researchers say.

Non-Hispanic Black people and those who were younger than 75 were affected more than others, with the pandemic reversing 10 years of progress in those groups. 

Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, presented these study findings at the American Heart Association 2022 Scientific Sessions.

The rate of death from heart disease had been falling for decades in the United States due to better detection of risk factors, such as high blood pressure, and better treatments, such as statins for cholesterol, she said.

The decrease in deaths from heart disease from 1900 to 1999 “has been recognized as a top public health achievement of the twentieth  century,” said Woodruff, who is an epidemiologist for the CDC.

The reversal of this positive trend shows that it is important that people “work with a health care provider to prevent and manage existing heart disease, even in challenging conditions like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. 

Woodruff advised that “everyone can improve and maintain their cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by following the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 – eating better, being more active, quitting tobacco, getting healthy sleep, managing weight, controlling cholesterol, managing blood sugar, and managing blood pressure.” 

“COVID-19 vaccines can help everyone, especially those with underlying heart disease or other health conditions, and protect people from severe COVID-19,” she stressed.

Andrew J. Einstein, MD, PhD, from Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, who was not involved with this research, says the results show “very disturbing changes” to the decline in deaths from heart disease over the past decade. 

The study findings underscore that “as a society, we need to take efforts to ensure that all people are engaged in the health care system, with one aim being improving heart health outcomes, which worsened significantly in 2020,” he says. 

“If you don’t actively see a primary care provider, it’s important to find one with whom you can have a good relationship and can discuss with you heart-healthy living; check your blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol; ask you about symptoms and examine you to detect disease early; and refer you for more specialized heart care as needed,” he says. 

Some Study Findings

The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s WONDER database.

They identified adults ages 35 and older with heart disease as cause of death.

They found that the number of people who died from heart disease in every 100,000 people (heart disease death rate) dropped each year from 2010 to 2019, but it increased in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.

This increase was seen in the total population, in men, in women, in all age groups, and in all race and Hispanic ethnicity groups.

In the total population, the heart disease death rate dropped by 9.8% from 2010 to 2019. But this rate increased by 4.1% in 2020, going back to the rate it had been in 2015.

Among non-Hispanic Black people, the heart disease death rate fell by 10.4% from 2010 to 2019, but it increased by 11.2% in 2020, going back to the rate it had been in 2010.

Similarly, among adults ages 35 to 54 and those ages 55 to 74, the rates of heart disease deaths decreased from 2010 to 2019 and increased in 2020 to rates higher than they had been in 2010.

In 2020, about 7 years of progress in declining heart death rates was lost among men and 3 years of progress was lost among women, the researchers said.