Increasing risk: Study reveals nearly half of US adults living with cardiovascular disease

It’s an alarming, but not that surprising a statistic.

Last week, the American Heart Association reported nearly half of American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease.

The statistic was revealed in a new report published in the American Heart Association’s journal, “Circulation,” which reported its annual update on the disease.

The 48 percent of Americans who now fit into the AHA’s definition of heart disease is a huge increase from last year’s numbers, with the reason being new guidelines for high blood pressure.

In 2017, the AHA and American College of Cardiology lowered the acceptable health level of blood pressure from 140/90 to 130/80. High blood pressure is a key risk factor for other more dangerous forms of cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis, stroke and heart attack.

Dr. Thomas Earl, an interventional cardiologist at McLaren Northern Michigan, said data has shown one in four people in the United States will die because of heart disease.

“That’s about 600,000 people a year,” Earl said. “It’s by far the leading cause of death in the country among both men and women.”

Earl said while heart disease can certainly be inheritable, there are also a combination of several risk factors which come into play including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes, smoking, poor diet and lack of physical activity.

“All of those factors can contribute in addition to your family history,” Earl said. “Family history is what we call a non-modifying risk factor where you can’t change that.”

Jeffrey Berger, a preventative cardiologist at NYU Langone Health and co-director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, said in a story published in Popular Science many patients have far more power and control over heart disease than they think.

“Many people believe that doctors and medications are the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Berger said. “I think that that is a false belief.

“Patients can have a tremendous impact on their risk of developing heart disease or stroke.”

One key researched-based way to improve heart health is through physical activity.

“It’s (exercise) something we feel strongly about and it’s proven to help reduce the risk of heart disease and even on a bigger scale reduce the risk of other physical ailments,” Earl said. “It’s pivotal.”

Earl said he recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day of the week, and any type of activity is better than being sedentary.

“Exercise is really key and it’s one of the foundations of living a healthy life,” Earl said. “We recommend everybody adopt some sort of exercise program, no matter how old they are, and it may look different for different people.”

Earl said for people who’ve reached a certain age and have not been exercising regularly, it’s always a good idea to consult with your family physician or a cardiologist before jumping into a new activity.

“Especially if you’ve been sedentary,” Earl said. “It usually starts with a history and a physical exam or an EKG or a stress test prior to starting a program.”

Maintaining a proper diet can also combat heart disease as well as help lower blood pressure, while Earl said other steps to help lower risk is working with their family doctor to help control blood pressure and cholesterol.

“And if they’re smoking, stopping,” Earl said. “One thing I’d stress to our community is not smoking, and there’s things people can do to quit, support groups are available and there are different nicotine replacements.”

Earl said heart disease, or more broadly vascular disease, may develop at an earlier age.

“In the western world, people start developing heart issues in their 20s,” Earl said. “They may not feel it and they may not have any issues, but we want to make sure people are having their blood pressure checked and cholesterol checked at least once a year starting relatively young so we can address a problem or identify it early in life.”

The added stress of living in a cold climate also playing into a risk factor.

“We talk about it in our cath lab how there’s never a shortage of people coming in from shoveling snow with the threat of a heart attack,” Earl said. “The cold weather has something to do with it, and people who aren’t used to doing a lot of physical activity start pushing a ton of snow around, they get their heart rate up and it can prompt something.”

Earl noted an underutilized facility in the area is the John and Marnie Demmer Wellness Pavilion and Dialysis Center, which was designed to provide services for healing, learning, modifying and maintaining the elements of a health life.

“There’s a lot of resources available there as well as support groups, community events and activities for the entire community,” Earl said.

For more information regarding heart health services or the John and Marnie Demmer Wellness Pavilion and Dialysis Center, visit


Feature Article by Steve Foley, Petoskey News-Review