With heart disease ranked as the number 1 cause of death worldwide, experts believe the broad influence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is likely to continue extending that ranking for years to come, according to a press release from the American Heart Association.

Nearly 18.6 million people died of cardiovascular disease in 2019, which is the latest year for which worldwide statistics are calculated. That reflects a 17.1% increase over the previous decade. Furthermore, the statistics show that there were more than 523.2 million cases of cardiovascular disease in 2019, 26.6% more than in 2010. According to the press release, experts predict that the global burden of heart disease will grow exponentially over the next few years as the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic become clearer.

“COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on human life worldwide and is on track to become one of the top 3 to 5 causes of death in 2020,” said Salim S. Virani, MD, PhD, FAHA, an associate professor in cardiology and cardiovascular research sections at Baylor College of Medicine, in a press release. “But its influence will directly and indirectly impact rates of cardiovascular disease prevalence and deaths for years to come. Research is showing that the unique coronavirus can cause damage to the heart. Importantly, we also know people have delayed getting care for heart attacks and strokes, which can result in poorer outcomes.”

Virani added that cardiovascular health risks exacerbated by lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic will be an even more critical issue. Stay-at-home orders have limited people’s activities, leading to unhealthy eating habits, increased consumption of alcohol, lack of physical activity, and have taken a toll on mental health. Virani said it will be essential to watch and address these trends as they unfold in the coming years.

Based on the 2021 Statistical Update, the report authors said cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, approximately 360,000 lives were lost due to COVID-19, and future releases of data regarding all causes of death will enable rank comparison of disease-specific causes of mortality, including COVID-19.

Tracking this data is one of the reasons the American Heart Association publishes the definitive statistical update annually, as a comprehensive resource of current data, relevant scientific findings, and assessments of the impact of cardiovascular disease. This year’s report will be the first to include a chapter devoted to adverse pregnancy outcomes, in which cardiovascular deaths are the most common cause (26.5%) of maternal deaths in the United States, according to the press release.

“We must address this issue to save the lives of mothers and to improve the health of their children at birth, but also over their lifetime,” Virani said in the press release. “There can be long-term effects on offspring of women who suffer pregnancy-related complications. But we can also help impact the health of future generations because as we help women learn to reduce their cardiovascular risk, they’re likely to adopt healthier lifestyles. In turn, they can influence the health behaviors of their families.”

REFERENCE
Heart disease #1 cause of death rank likely to be impacted by COVID-19 for years to come [news release]. American Heart Association; January 27, 2021. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/heart-disease?preview=fe05. Accessed January 27, 2021.