Deaths from heart failure are rising dramatically among the elderly. According to statistics compiled by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, there were 10,000 deaths attributed to heart failure in 1968. By 1993, that number had jumped to 219,000, and even that number is expected to rise speeply over the next several years. It is estimated that 4.8 million Americans currently have the disease and 400,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
According to Dr. Ruth Altschuld, a heart researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus, the number one reason for the increase of heart failure deaths is more people are surviving heart attacks. The second reason is the aging population. When a patient survives a heart attack, the heart muscle is damaged. A patient with a damaged heart is at risk for heart failure later in life.
"You can survive a heart attack in your 40s, for instance, and not develop heart failure until you're in your 60s," according to Altschuld. Progress in the treatment of heart disease has allowed individuals who might have died from a heart attack to live long enough to experience heart failure. Altschuld believes that the group with the greatest risk of developing heart failure includes anyone who has had a heart attack, older adults, and individuals with diabetes and untreated hypertension.
For more information, contact the National Heart Foundation, a program of the American Health Assistance Foundation by calling (800) 437-AHAF.