Most US Adults Fail to Recognize Heart Disease as Leading Killer of Americans, Study Finds

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The American Heart Association's annual report on heart disease and stroke statistics for 2024 sheds new light on the impact and level of public education surrounding the impact of heart disease and stroke in the US and abroad.

Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD | Credit: Stanford University

Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD
Credit: Stanford University

Despite being the leading cause of death in the US for more than a century, more than half of the respondents to a 2023 survey conducted on behalf of the American Heart Association (AHA) failed to identify heart disease as the leading killer of US adults, according to the AHA’s 2024 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics report.

Data from the report, which is created annually by the AHA and National Institutes of Health to spotlight the impact of heart disease and stroke in the US and abroad, highlight a lack of awareness surrounding the impact of cardiovascular disease, with additional statistics paint a picture where 51% failed to identify heart disease as the leading cause of death, but also spotlights how advances in care and education have caused death rates from cardiovascular disease to decline by 60% in the last 75 years.

“Heart disease has now been the leading cause of death in this country for 100 years straight, since 1921, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD, volunteer president of the American Heart Association, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and the Simon H. Stertzer Professor of Medicine and Radiology at Stanford School of Medicine. “Heart disease along with stroke, which is the fifth leading cause of death, claims more lives in the U.S. than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, based on the most recent data available. So, the results of this survey, finding that most people do not know the significant impact of heart disease, is discouraging and even a bit frightening.”

Prepared by a volunteer writing group on behalf of the American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Committee, the 2024 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics: A Report of U.S. and Global Data From the American Heart Association is a 567-page document with more than and was published on January 24, 2024, in the AHA’s flagship journal, Circulation. Unlike previous iterations of the document, this year’s report has a specific emphasis on heart and stroke statistics across the globe, which is reflected in the document’s naming convention.

A reflection of the changing landscape of cardiovascular care, this name change is just one of many changes the report has undergone in the last half-decade. In 2020, the report added social determinants of health to all chapters, in 2021 a chapter was added on adverse pregnancy outcomes, and in 2022 the section on brain health was expanded while COVID-19 data were added to the report.

Key Findings and Statistics:

  • The overall number of cardiovascular-related deaths was 931,578, which represents an increase of less than 3000 from the 928,741 deaths reported in 2023. Of note, the 2023 number is representative of 54,000 additional deaths relative to 2022—raw largest single-year jump since 2015.
  • The age-adjusted death rate from cardiovascular disease increased to 233.3 per 100,000, up 4.0% from 224.4 per 100,000 reported last year.
  • Main drivers of cardiovascular death were deaths from coronary heart disease (40.3%), stroke (17.5%), other minor CVD causes combined (17.1%), high blood pressure (13.4%), heart failure (9.1%) and diseases of the arteries (2.6%).
  • Each year in the US, there are about 605,000 new heart attacks and 200,000 recurrent attacks. Of these, it is estimated that 170,000 are silent, without significant symptoms.
  • The mean age at first cardiovascular event is 65.6 years for males and 72.0 years for females.
  • There are about 446 deaths from stroke each day, based on 2021 data. On average, someone dies of a stroke every 3 minutes and 14 seconds in the US, with 795,000 people experiencing a new or recurrent stroke each year.

“As it has evolved over the years, the report has become a preeminent resource in identifying the overall impact of cardiovascular disease, including who is most affected, where it is most prevalent and what factors may increase the risk of it,” said Seth S. Martin, MD, MHS, professor of medicine at John’s Hopkins School of Medicine. “This type of information is crucial to the development of awareness initiatives and policy strategies and provides a road map for cardiovascular research priorities.”

References:

  1. Martin SS, Aday AW, Almarzooq ZI, et al. 2024 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics: A Report of US and Global Data From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2024;149:e00–e00. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001209
  2. American Heart Association Newsroom. More than half of U.S. adults don’t know heart disease is leading cause of death, despite 100-year reign. American Heart Association. January 24, 2024. Accessed January 23, 2024. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/more-than-half-of-u-s-adults-dont-know-heart-disease-is-leading-cause-of-death-despite-100-year-reign
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