Study Finds Increase in Heart Disease Death Rates During COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2020, heart disease death rates increased in adults across all age, sex, racial and ethnic groups, specifically among younger adults and non-Hispanic Black adults.

Deaths from heart disease in the United States increased in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic following a steady reduction in the death rate from 2010 to 2019, according to research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2022.

US heart disease death rates had been dropping among adults since the 1990s; however, researchers found that in 2020, heart disease death rates were elevated in adults across all age, sex, race, and ethnicity groups, specifically among younger adults and non-Hispanic Black adults.

“Prior to 2020, death rates from heart disease had been declining among adults for decades, which has been recognized by the CDC as one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the last century,” said Rebecca C. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press release. “The increases in death rates from heart disease in 2020 represented about 5 years of lost progress among adults nationwide and about 10 years of lost progress among younger adults and non-Hispanic Black adults.”

The investigators analyzed data from the CDC’s Wide-Ranging ONLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database from 2010 to 2020. The database includes information on death certificates from across the United States from the National Vital Statistics System.

The data show that from 2010 to 2019, the national heart disease death rate fell by 9.8%, which increased by 4.1% in 2020. This translates to approximately 5 years of progress erased in lowering heart disease death rates among adults.

The growth in heart disease death rates were high among younger adults, with approximately 10 years of progress erased in 2020. Among adults 35 to 54 years of age, heart disease deaths dropped by 5.5% from 2010 to 2019, which spiked by 12% 2020.

Among individuals 55 to 74 years of age, heart disease death rates fell by 2.3% from 2010 to 2019, but grew by 7.8% in 2020. The growth in heart disease death rates among non-Hispanic Black adults declined by 10.4% from 2010 to 2019 and jumped by 11.2% in 2020.

The investigators noted that a growing body of evidence indicates that individuals who were infected with COVID-19 may have a greater risk for new or worsening cardiovascular disease, which may have been a factor in the rising death rates since the start of the pandemic.

Increased cardiovascular death rates were linked to harmful habits associated with the COVID-19 lockdown, such as lack of physical activity, increased smoking, and increased alcohol use.

“These social determinants of health have a larger effect on people who are economically disadvantaged, Black people, Hispanic people and indigenous and native individuals, so then you have a domino effect resulting in higher death rates and more disease among these populations,” said American Heart Association President Michelle A. Albert, MD, MPH, FAHA, in a press release.

She added that action is needed from both citizens and health care professionals to regain the progress lost since 2020.

“If you are a person who has not received medical care for one or more years because of the pandemic, please seek out care from a health care professional. And it’s important for health care professionals to really take a look at their pool of patients to identify those persons who have dropped off their radar and reach out to those people and offer medical assistance, as well as potentially connect them with the social resources that they might need now coming out of the pandemic,” Albert said in a press release.

Woodruff noted that the CDC is actively keeping track of heart disease trends after 2020 to see how the trends have evolved.

REFERENCE

Heart disease death rates spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, erasing years of progress. American Heart Association. October 31, 2022. Accessed October 31, 2022. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/heart-disease-death-rates-spiked-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-erasing-years-of-progress?preview=64cf