Heart disease and stroke together are the world's greatest killer. The World Health Organization shows that cardiovascular disease alone claims more than 17 million lives a year.
In the U.S., the survival rate is one in 10 for victims of heart attacks outside a hospital....a statistic that has not changed in 30 years. But new research indicates there is room for improvement.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that if people living in poor neighborhoods received CPR instruction, heart attack victims there would have a better chance of survival.
The study found people in poor neighborhoods are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack than those living in a wealthier part of town.
Lifestyle changes, new medications and treatments can also help keep heart disease at bay.
"Over the last decade we have continued to see improvements in cardiovascular mortality," says Cardiologist Harindra Wijeysundera. He says he found deaths from heart disease dropped by as much as 35 percent for people living in Ontario, Canada between 1994 and 2005. Dr. Wijeysundera says changes in lifestyle and behavior had a lot to do with it.
"About 48 percent of this reduction was associated with improvements in risk factors, so for instance there was a reduction in blood pressure and total cholesterol, (and) in smoking," he stated.
During the study, the number of Canadians who smoked decreased substantially. Smoking is a major contributor to heart disease. Also during that time, doctors increased prescriptions for medications to control blood pressure... resulting in another major reduction in cardiovascular deaths. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
And finally, new medical devices play a role in heart health. A new device, no bigger than a paper clip, could revolutionize the way heart failure is managed.
Heart failure is caused by high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries in the heart. The device has performed well in clinical trials.
"It has been a decade since we have seen a trial this positive," Dr. William Abraham of Ohio State University said.
The device is a tiny sensor, implanted through a catheter in the heart's pulmonary artery. The procedure takes just seven minutes. The patient passes a wand over his chest, collecting data on heart pressure. That data is sent electronically to the doctor's computer.
The doctor can then modify medications quickly, if needed. With the sensor, patients have a 30 percent chance of avoiding hospitalization.
Right now, a scale is one of the only ways to monitor patients. People with heart failure tend to gain weight because fluids build up when the heart can't pump enough blood. But monitoring weight is not the ideal way to monitor the heart.
"Daily weight change is insensitive at predicting episodes of worsening heart failure," Dr. Abraham said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the device to be used for heart failure patients. The device might also reduce stress because patients will know if their fluids are at the right levels.