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High Blood Pressure

A patient has her blood pressure checked by a registered nurse in Plainfield, Vermont, in June 2013. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with other organizations, has launched a campaign to cut down the number of preventable deaths due to cardiovascular disease.

The Million Hearts campaign aims to prevent one million strokes and heart attacks in five years. According to the CDC, nothing kills more Americans annually than heart disease and stroke.

That includes the more than 1.5 million people who suffer heart attacks and strokes and the 850,000-plus deaths — one-third of all U.S. deaths. That adds up to $199 billion in health care system costs and $131 billion in lost productivity.

The campaign is led by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). And it’s fueled by partners across federal and state agencies and private partners, said Judy Hannan, an RN senior adviser with Million Hearts.

In an online talk to members of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Hannan spoke about how the death rate for strokes and heart attacks decreased from 1950 and 2015, “with lots of progress in the 1970s.” The decrease was tied to improvements in cardiovascular treatments, including new technology such as stents.

Another big reason was the focus on risk factors, including a decrease in smoking, improved diet and an increase in exercise. But that decrease began to flatten out around 2015, she said, due to the obesity epidemic and a rise in type 2 diabetes.

That’s where Million Hearts comes in, Hannan said, to get the health trend moving again in the right direction.

“We can do that by keeping people healthy, optimizing care and improving outcomes to priority populations,” she said.

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Keeping people healthy means getting them to decrease their sodium intake, decrease tobacco use and increase activity. Optimizing care includes getting cardiac patients involved in rehab and engaging people in heart-healthy activities.

Improving outcomes for priority populations focuses on African Americans suffering from high blood pressure; people in the 35-64 age group; people who have had a heart attack or stroke; and people with mental health or substance abuse disorders.

Nine million people who should be on an aspirin regimen aren’t, Hannan said. Another 40 million people have uncontrolled high blood pressure, while 39 million who would benefit from use of statin drugs don’t take them, and 71 million avoid physical activity.

“More than one in two of these missed opportunities are among adults 35 to 64,” she said.

Hannen emphasized that strokes and heart attacks in people ages 35 to 64 “are not rare.”

“It’s a tragic event but it’s not unusual or rare,” she said. “Every day, 2,000 people are hospitalized in that age group due to cardiovascular risks.”

For more information about Million Hearts, go online to millionhearts.hhs.gov.

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