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More Elderly Living With Heart Failure

Study: Treating So Many Patients Could Financially Strain Health Care System
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 25, 2008 -- Although the number of older Americans newly diagnosed with heart failure has declined slightly in recent years, a new study shows more people are living with the disease.

But researchers say that trend is both good news and bad news.

Thanks to advances in treatment, researchers say the good news is that death rates and the incidence of heart failure have fallen slightly among older people in recent years. The bad news is that caring for a growing number of elderly people living with heart failure will put an increasingly heavy financial burden on Medicare and the health care system in the future.

"From all indications, heart failure will continue to be a major public health burden, consuming billions of dollars each year," says researcher Lesley Curtis, PhD, a health services researcher at Duke University.

Researchers say nearly 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure and despite modest improvements in survival rates, every year nearly one in three diagnosed with the disease will die from it.

Heart Failure Trends Among Elderly

In the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed trends in heart failure among the elderly from a sample of 5% of Medicare claims and looked at those diagnosed with heart failure between 1994 and 2003. During that time, 622,786 people were diagnosed with having heart failure.

Overall, the results showed the number of elderly living with heart failure steadily increased during the 10-year study period, from about 140,000 to 200,000. The prevalence of heart failure was greater in men than women.

A slight but steady decline in the number of elderly newly diagnosed with heart failure was found among most age groups. The biggest drop in the incidence of heart failure was among those aged 80 to 84 years old.

However, among those aged 65 to 69 years old, the incidence of heart failure rose slightly.

Researchers say documenting the rate at which a disease occurs and how many people have it at one time is important for planning resources needed for future health care.

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