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Celebrating Black History

COVID Toll Realized: CVD Deaths Take a Big Jump, Especially Among Certain Populations

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covid-19-covid-cardiovascular-american heart association

A statistical update by the American Heart Association reports the largest increase in cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States in years, especially among Asian, Black, and Hispanic populations.

The number of people dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the United States escalated during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, from 874,613 CVD-related deaths recorded in 2019 to 928,741 in 2020. The rise in the number of CVD deaths in 2020 represents the largest single-year increase since 2015 and topped the previous high of 910,000 recorded in 2003, according to the latest available data from the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics — 2023 Update by the American Heart Association.

The biggest increases in the overall number of CVD-related deaths were seen among Asian, Black, and Hispanic people — populations most impacted in the early days of the pandemic — and this increase has brought to focus increasing structural and societal disparities.

“We know that COVID-19 took a tremendous toll, and preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that there was a substantial increase in the loss of lives from all causes since the start of the pandemic. That this likely translated to an increase in overall cardiovascular deaths, while disheartening, is not surprising. In fact, the Association predicted this trend, which is now official,” said the American Heart Association’s volunteer president, Michelle A. Albert.

“COVID-19 has both direct and indirect impacts on cardiovascular health,” Albert explained. “As we learned, the virus is associated with new clotting and inflammation. We also know that many people who had new or existing heart disease and stroke symptoms were reluctant to seek medical care, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. This resulted in people presenting with more advanced stages of cardiovascular conditions and needing more acute or urgent treatment for what may have been manageable chronic conditions. Sadly, this appears to have cost many their lives.”

Impacting communities of color

According to Albert, who also is the director of the Center for the Study of Adversity and Cardiovascular Disease (NURTURE Center), the larger increases in the number of coronary heart disease deaths among adults of Asian, Black, and Hispanic populations appear to correlate with the people most often infected with COVID-19.

“People from communities of color were among those more highly impacted, especially early on, often due to a disproportionate burden of cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension and obesity,” said Albert. “Additionally, there are socioeconomic considerations, as well as the ongoing impact of structural racism on multiple factors including limiting the ability to access quality healthcare.”

According to Albert, the American Heart Association responded quickly at the beginning of the pandemic to address the impact of COVID-19 and focus on equitable health for all. The Association launched the first-ever rapid response research grants; established a COVID-19 CVD hospital registry through the Get With The Guidelines® quality initiative; and made an unprecedented pledge to aggressively address social determinants while working to support and improve the equitable health of all communities.

Said Albert, “We are empowering real change that will save lives.”

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