June 23, 2009 / 10:34 PM / in 11 years

Heart disease deaths down significantly in Canada

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Canada’s death rate from cardiovascular disease dropped by nearly one third over a decade, in large part due to improved heart attack survival, a new study finds.

Researchers found that between 1994 and 2004, the national rate of death from cardiovascular causes — including heart attack, heart failure and stroke — fell by 30 percent.

A driving force was the 38 percent decline in heart attack deaths, according to findings published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Deaths from stroke and heart failure also dropped, by 28 percent and

23 percent, respectively.

“The decline is likely explained in part by better prevention and in part by better treatments,” Dr. Jack V. Tu, a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, told Reuters Health.

Fewer Canadians are smoking now compared with a decade ago, Tu noted, and there is greater awareness of and better control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

At the same time, there have been advances in treatment — such as higher rates and more timely use of angioplasty and clot-busting drugs to stop heart attacks in progress.

“Overall, this is very good news for the public because it shows that advances in heart disease prevention and treatment have been very successful, with fewer people dying prematurely from these conditions,” Tu said.

Still, he and his colleagues caution, the findings are “not grounds for complacency,” as cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death and hospitalization in Canada.

In addition, the researchers found that, for the first time, more women than men are dying from cardiovascular causes.

There are likely many reasons that heart disease death rates are improving faster among men compared with women, according to Tu. Age could be one reason, he said; women are, on average, 10 years older than men when they suffer a heart attack, and 5 years older when they develop heart failure or have a stroke.

Lesser heart disease awareness may also be an obstacle. Women may, for instance, be slower to get to the hospital when they’re having a heart attack — either because they are unaware of the conventional symptoms or because women are more likely to have “atypical” heart attack symptoms, such as burning in the chest, back pain and nausea.

There has also been less research into how to optimally prevent and treat heart disease in women compared with men, Tu said.

The public should keep in mind, the researcher said, that while the heart disease outlook is improving, people need to keep following a healthy diet, exercising and having their heart risk factors regularly evaluated.

With rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes among younger people, Tu noted, there is a danger for the gains of the past decade to halt or even reverse.

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