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AHA annual stats update highlights heart-brain connection


The American Heart Association (AHA) draws attention to the important bidirectional link between cardiovascular health and brain health in its annual statistical update on heart disease and stroke.

“For several years now, the AHA and the scientific community have increasingly recognized the connections between cardiovascular health and brain health, so it was time for us to cement this into its own chapter, which we highlight as the brain health chapter,” Connie W. Tsao, MD, MPH, chair of the statistical update writing group, with Harvard Medical School, Boston, said in an AHA podcast.

“The global rate of brain disease is quickly outpacing heart disease,” Mitchell S. V. Elkind, MD, immediate past president of the AHA, added in a news release.

“The rate of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias rose more than twice as much in the past decade compared to the rate of deaths from heart disease, and that is something we must address,” said Dr. Elkind, with Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

“It’s becoming more evident that reducing vascular disease risk factors can make a real difference in helping people live longer, healthier lives, free of heart disease and brain disease,” Dr. Elkind added.

The AHA’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2022 Update was published online January 26 in Circulation).

The report highlights some of the research connecting heart and brain health, including the following:

  • A meta-analysis of 139 studies showed that people with midlife hypertension were five times more likely to experience impairment on global cognition and about twice as likely to experience reduced executive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A meta-analysis of four longitudinal studies found that the risk for dementia associated with heart failure was increased nearly twofold.
  • In the large prospective Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Neurocognitive Study, atrial fibrillation was associated with greater cognitive decline and dementia over 20 years.
  • A meta-analysis of 10 prospective studies (including 24,801 participants) showed that coronary heart disease (CHD) was associated with a 40% increased risk of poor cognitive outcomes, including dementia, cognitive impairment, or cognitive decline.

“This new chapter on brain health was a critical one to add,” Dr. Tsao said in the news release.

“The data we’ve collected brings to light the strong correlations between heart health and brain health and makes it an easy story to tell -- what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” Dr. Tsao added.

Along with the new chapter on brain health, the 2022 statistical update provides the latest statistics and heart disease and stroke. Among the highlights:

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death worldwide. In the United States in 2019, CVD, listed as the underlying cause of death, accounted for 874,613 deaths, about 2,396 deaths each day. On average, someone dies of CVD every 36 seconds.
  • CVD claims more lives each year in the United States than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.
  • In 2019, CHD was the leading cause (41.3%) of deaths attributable to CVD, followed by other CVD (17.3%), stroke (17.2%), hypertension (11.7%), heart failure (9.9%), and diseases of the arteries (2.8%).
  • In 2019, stroke accounted for roughly 1 in every 19 deaths in the United States. On average, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of stroke every 3 minutes 30 seconds. When considered separately from other CVD, stroke ranks number five among all causes of death in the United States.


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