July 20, 2004 -- We've made significant headway in the battle against heart failure, but because of the aging population and other factors, the number of people diagnosed with the disease has remained steady over the past 20 years.
The main cause of heart failure is clogged heart arteries that lead to a decrease in the heart's pumping function. Some researchers have thought that with all the improvements in heart disease treatment in recent years, the frequency of heart failure would decrease. But researchers say their new findings show that heart failure rates have not declined in recent years, despite treatment advances and increased awareness of the disease.
In addition, the study shows that although men suffer disproportionately from heart failure, improvements in treatment haven't benefited men and women equally.
Heart failure is the most frequent cause of hospitalization among people over age 65 and affects nearly 5 million Americans.
Heart Failure Rates Steady
In the study which appears in the July 21 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed data from more than 4,500 elderly residents of Olmsted County, Minn., who had heart failure from 1979 to 2000.
The study showed that heart failure had not become more common during this period of time; instead the incidence of heart failure remained stable during those two decades. The incidence of heart failure among men was 378 per 100,000 and among women it was 289 per 100,000 and did not change over time.
Researchers found that survival after the diagnosis of heart failure was worse among men than in women, but improved overall from 1979 to 2000. The percentage of people with heart failure who survived five years or more after diagnosis was 43% in 1979-1984 and 52% in 1996-2000.
"Although survival after the onset of heart failure improved over time, there were disparities in the magnitude of the improvement, which was greater among men and younger individuals," write researcher Véronique L. Roger, MD, MPH, of the Mayo Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues. "Men and younger persons experienced larger survival gains, contrasting with less or no improvement for women and elderly persons."