CDC-Led Report Suggests 5-10 Years of Progress Against Cardiovascular Disease Erased During COVID-19 Pandemic

Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, MPH

Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, MPH (Courtesy of American Heart Association)

A new study funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sending a grim warning to clinicians regarding the prevalence of cardiovascular disease since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022, results of the study indicate that while national rates of cardiovascular disease-related mortality rate dropped by 9.8% from 2010-2019, this was followed by a 4.1% rate increase in 2020 rate, which investigators purport is representative of half a decade of lost progress in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

“Prior to 2020, death rates from heart disease had been declining among adults for decades, which has been recognized by the CDC as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the last century,” said lead investigator Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist with the US CDC, in a statement. “The increases in death rates from heart disease in 2020 represented about 5 years of lost progress among adults nationwide and about 10 years of lost progress among younger adults and non-Hispanic Black adults.”

The current study was led by Woodruff and a team of colleagues from the US CDC with an interest in providing clinicians with a comprehensive overview of contemporary trends in cardiovascular disease-related mortality among US adults. To do so, investigators designed their study as an analysis of age-standardized data from the US CDC’s WONDER database. The primary outcome of interest for investigators’ analysis was the percent change between 2010, 2019, and 2020 death rates overall and by cardiovascular disease subtypes as well as demographic subgroups.

Using CDC WONDER data, investigators found the rate of cardiovascular disease-related death declined by 9.8% from 347.3 per 100,000 persons in 2010 to 313 per 100,000 persons in 2019. However, results suggested this was followed by a 4.1% increase in 2020 to 325.9 per 100,000 persons, which investigators pointed out was similar to the 2015 rate at 326.5 per 100,000 persons.

Further analysis demonstrated the increases in cardiovascular disease-related death rates were most apparent in non-Hispanic Black adults, who saw rates decline by 10.4% from 2010-2019, but an 11.2% increase in 2020. Investigators noted the increase in rate of cardiovascular disease-related mortality in 2020 represents 10 years of lost progress among non-Hispanic Black adults, with the 442.4 per 100,000 persons rate observed in 2020 similar to the 440.7 per 100,000 persons rate observed in 2010. When assessing changes by age, results indicated cardiovascular disease-related mortality fell by 5.5% from 2010-2019 among 35- to 54-year-old adults but increased 12% in 2020. Among 55- to 74-year-old adults, rates decreased by 2.3% between 2010-2019 and increased by 7.8% in 2020.

In the aforementioned statement, the AHA underlined the importance of identifying patient populations who may have avoided or deferred care as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the release, Woodruff also noted the CDC is exploring plans to examine cardiovascular disease and related mortality trends beyond 2020.

“It’s important for health care professionals to really take a look at their pool of patients to identify those persons who have dropped off their radar and reach out to those people and offer medical assistance, as well as potentially connect them with the social resources that they might need now coming out of the pandemic,” Woodruff added.

This study, “Trends In National Death Rates From Heart Disease In The United States, 2010‒2020,” was presented at AHA 22.

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