February marks the 52nd anniversary of American Heart Month. When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the creation of the national awareness month in 1964, cardiology was very different than it is today. Statins were not yet being prescribed to lower cholesterol. Physicians were just beginning to identify the link between heart disease and factors such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. The automatic implantable cardiac defibrillator and echocardiography had not yet been developed, and the first successful coronary artery bypass surgery on a human was still more than a decade away. It’s no wonder annual deaths from cardiovascular diseases have fallen by nearly 1 million per year since the 1960s.
American Heart Association President Mark Creager, M.D., says in addition to the prescription of life-saving drugs such as statins, blood pressure-lowering medications, and antiplatelet medications, the way we care for heart patients has also substantially improved survival rates. “Probably the best example of that is how we approach patients who have had heart attacks,” says Dr. Creager. “That has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. We used to treat heart attacks as an untreatable condition in which a patient would be put on bed rest for up to six weeks and allowed to ‘recover.’ Now we identify heart attacks promptly and get patients to facilities where the heart attack can be not only diagnosed, but treated immediately, particularly with catheters to open up the blockers and insert stents. That has made a huge difference in reducing fatalities from heart disease.”
Let’s take a look at how far we have come in the fight against the nation’s No. 1 killer since American Heart Month began — and what we need to do to continue making strides in decades to come.