By Michelle Fay Cortez
U.S. heart disease may be rising after three decades of decline, according to an autopsy study by the Mayo Clinic.
Heart disease fell from 1981 to 1995, when it leveled off, and may have risen since 2000, said an article in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers studied autopsy reports on 425 people who died in Olmsted County, Minnesota, from accidents or other unnatural causes between 1981 and 2004.
Heart disease typically takes decades to kill, so the study could explain why heart disease death hasn't been propelled by skyrocketing obesity and diabetes, the authors said. Obesity and diabetes both raise the risk of heart disease, leading some public health officials to fear that the current generation may be the first to die younger than their parents,
``Death is a distant outcome for obesity and diabetes,'' and those rates are rising most among teenagers and young adults, said Cynthia L. Leibson, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and senior author of the article. ``We have to be cautious about the interpretation, because this study doesn't have any evidence that the trends in obesity and diabetes were the cause of these changes, but it is a cautionary tale and it helps us know that we do have to act.''
Causes of death included accidents, murders and suicides, giving researchers a picture of heart disease in people whose average age was 50 and who didn't have decades of cardiovascular problems. The researchers reviewed pathology reports for signs of heart disease and rated the amount of artery blockage and year of death.
The years in which heart disease dropped suggested fewer people developed it and survival improved for those who did have it, the researchers said.
The study ``gives us a glimpse into the future of heart disease,'' wrote S. Jay Olshansky and Victoria Persky from the University of Illinois' School of Public Health in Chicago. ``What this observation may foretell is that in the coming decades, the age at onset of coronary artery disease could shift to younger ages and the death rate rise,'' they said.
The results underscore the importance of healthy lifestyle for young Americans before signs and symptoms of heart disease develop, the article said.
While the conclusions may not apply to all Americans, ``the results are alarming enough to alert public health officials to begin monitoring younger cohorts for early signs of coronary artery disease with much greater vigilance,'' Olshansky and Persky wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.
The study, led by Peter Nemetz from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the Mayo Clinic, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the A. J. and Sigismunda Palumbo Foundation.
The findings don't necessarily mean more deaths from heart disease, said Leibson. New heart drugs and therapies may mitigate the consequences of clogged arteries, she said in a telephone interview.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at firstname.lastname@example.org