The annual rate of American deaths from causes related to cardiovascular disease increased during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to its lowest level since 2015, according to final data compiled this month by the American Heart Association.
In 2020, 928,741 US deaths were due to cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, compared to 874,613 in 2019. The age-adjusted death rate also increased this year for the first time in a decade.
“COVID-19 has both direct and indirect effects on the cardiovascular system. As we have learned, the virus is associated with new blood clotting and inflammation. We also know that many people who had new or existing heart disease and stroke symptoms were reluctant to seek medical attention. ,” said association vice president Dr. Michelle Albert in a press release announcing the annual publication compiled by the association and the National Institutes of Health.
Heart disease again accounted for the largest share of these deaths in 2020 at 41.2%, followed by stroke at 17.3%.
The report only adds to the evidence of the massive toll that the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on the health and longevity of Americans. Earlier data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that cardiovascular disease death rates will worsen in every demographic for 2020.
“Before 2020, adult death rates from heart disease had been declining for decades, which was recognized by the CDC as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the last century,” said Rebecca Woodruff of the CDC.
However, not all parts of the country were consistently improving before the pandemic subsided.
From 2011 to 2019, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics estimated that age-adjusted death rates from heart disease declined in only 15 states. Arkansas experienced growth while others plateaued.
Large differences also persist between demographic groups. From 2017 to 2020, more than half of men in every racial and ethnic group had cardiovascular disease, ranging from 51.2% of white men to 58.9% of black men.
Black women had the highest rate of cardiovascular disease of any group at 59.0% compared to 44.6% of white women, 38.5% of Asian women, and 37.3% of Hispanic women.
The publication reports that cardiovascular disease deaths also increased significantly in 2020 among Asians, blacks and Hispanics, which appears to reflect some of the hardest-hit communities in the early wave of the pandemic.
However, the authors of the Heart Association acknowledged that this year’s report remains “clearly incomplete” in tracking risk and mortality from cardiovascular disease. Rates do not exist for racial and ethnic subgroups, nor for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
“The mischaracterization or erasure of population diversity threatens our ability to understand the sociocultural determinants that contribute to diversity and disparity in health and disease and to develop individualized strategies to improve population health,” Dr. Nilay Shah and Dr. Yvonne Commodore. Mensah, two authors of the publication, wrote in a statement.
COVID-19 and the heart
Experts have long warned that common heart conditions such as coronary heart disease have been definitively linked to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
In turn, COVID infection can also affect the cardiovascular system in a variety of ways, from damage to heart tissue to the formation of blood clots.
Research also points to a link between the pandemic and worsening risk factors that may underlie heart problems.
One study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that blood pressure rose during the first year of the pandemic after several months of relatively unchanged levels.
COVID-19 has also led to major disruptions in medical care for routine issues. One study published by the CDC in June 2020 found that 41% of adults avoided healthcare due to COVID-19 issues.
“This resulted in people developing advanced cardiovascular disease and requiring more acute or urgent treatment for what could be a manageable chronic condition. And, unfortunately, it cost many of their lives,” Albert said.