Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Nothing fancy

Heart Beat

Nothing fancy

After a frightening increase in the 1960s and 1970s, death rates due to cholesterol-clogged coronary arteries have been falling since the 1980s. This decline owes as much to our collective hard work to control blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and other risk factors as it does to new treatments. Using a sophisticated computer model, researchers estimated the contributions of nationwide improvements in risk factors and new technologies or treatments. The top eight were

  • reducing cholesterol, 24%

  • reducing blood pressure, 20%

  • reducing smoking, 12%

  • bypass surgery and angioplasty during or after a heart attack, 11%

  • medicines for heart attack, 10%

  • heart failure therapies, 9%

  • bypass surgery or angioplasty for angina, 5%

  • increasing physical activity, 5%.

These improvements have been offset by the epidemic of overweight and diabetes that began in the 1980s, which has increased death rates by 18%, the researchers reported in the June 7, 2007 New England Journal of Medicine.

Individual and public health efforts to reduce risk factors for heart disease have made big contributions to the decline in heart-related deaths since 1980.

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