Health - Medical Stethoscope Symbols - iStock - Natali_Mis

New data show disconnect in understanding heart disease risks

© iStock - Natali_Mis
Mike Moen

Click play to listen to a version of this article.

Audio file

(Greater Dakota News Service) As American Heart Month gets underway Thursday, experts are trying to create more awareness across the country. 

But they're grappling with troubling data about the public's recognition of heart disease as a threat. 

An annual report from the American Heart Association shows that heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. - just as it has for the past century. 

But report authors say more than half of respondents - in a survey commissioned by the organization - did not identify that as the case. 

Health - Fitness Shoes Water Bottle Apple Jump Rope Note Pad - iStock - LanaSweet

© iStock - LanaSweet

The Heart Association's Regional Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, Chrissy Meyer, said what's more concerning is that roughly the same percentage of people are likely dealing with a heart issue of some kind.

"Nearly half of all people in the U.S. have some type of cardiovascular disease," said Meyer.

The report also notes that 38 percent of adults with high blood pressure are unaware they have it, creating more risk concerns. 

Meyer said the good news is that the dramatic increase in cardiovascular deaths seen at the onset of the pandemic appears to have slowed. 

However, researchers still have a lot to learn about COVID-19's long-term health effects, as well as the impacts of unhealthy habits people picked up during that time.

Heart disease also is the leading cause of death in South Dakota. Meyer said residents around the state should try to have more conversations with their doctor about any risks. 

And she said it can't be stressed enough that CPR training should be prioritized when first responders have longer distances to travel.

"We are a rural state, and making sure that individuals, when faced with a cardiac emergency," said Meyer, "know exactly what to do to help save the life of most likely a loved one, is so vital and so important."

The report says overall, the number of cardiovascular-related deaths in the U.S. increased by nearly 3,000 last year to a total of more than 931,000.