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Heart Disease Remains No. 1 Killer, But COVID Will Have Big Impact

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 27, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease is likely to remain the world's leading cause of death for years to come, partially due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, an American Heart Association report predicts.

Heart disease deaths worldwide rose 17.1% over the past decade, with nearly 18.6 million people dying of heart disease in 2019. There were more than 523.2 million cases of heart disease in 2019 -- up 26.6% from 2010.

Those are key takeaways from the AHA's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2021 Update, published Jan. 27 in the journal Circulation.

It also predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to higher rates of heart disease and related deaths in the next few years.

"COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on human life worldwide and is on track to become one of the top three to five causes of death in 2020. But its influence will directly and indirectly impact rates of cardiovascular disease prevalence and deaths for years to come," said Dr. Salim Virani, head of the report writing committee.

He's an associate professor of cardiology and cardiovascular research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Research is showing that the unique coronavirus can cause damage to the heart," Virani said in an AHA news release. "Importantly, we also know people have delayed getting care for heart attacks and strokes, which can result in poorer outcomes."

But poor lifestyle habits that have become common during the pandemic will have an even greater impact on heart health, he warned.

"Unhealthy eating habits, increased consumption of alcohol, lack of physical activity and the mental toll of quarantine isolation and even fear of contracting the virus all can adversely impact a person's risk for cardiovascular health," Virani said. "We'll need to watch and address these trends as the full ramifications will likely be felt for many years to come."

The report also addressed the impact of pregnancy complications, which can increase heart risk for both mothers and babies.

Complications such as high blood pressure disorders, gestational diabetes, preterm births and low birth weight occur in 10% to 20% of U.S. pregnancies. Heart disease is the nation's most common cause (26.5%) of maternal death.

"We must address this issue to save the lives of mothers and to improve the health of their children at birth, but also over their lifetime," Virani said.

"There can be long-term effects on offspring of women who suffer pregnancy-related complications," he added. "But we can also help impact the health of future generations because as we help women learn to reduce their cardiovascular risk, they're likely to adopt healthier lifestyles. In turn, they can influence the health behaviors of their families."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to a healthy heart.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Jan. 27, 2021

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