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121.5 million U.S. adults have heart disease, American Heart Association says

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Dallas — Nearly half of U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, based on a recent change in the threshold for high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association’s annual report on heart disease and stroke.

AHA and the American College of Cardiology revised the definition of high blood pressure, or hypertension, to 130 over 80 from 140 over 90 in November 2017. As a result, 121.5 million U.S. adults, or about 48 percent, now have some form of cardiovascular disease.

According to the report, published Jan. 31, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States; stroke ranks fifth.

“We’re becoming more and more aware of the importance of high blood pressure,” Dr. Emelia J. Benjamin, a professor of cardiology at Boston University and chair of the group that wrote the report, said in a press release. “Levels we used to think were normal we now associate with worse outcomes, and treating them makes a big difference.”

In the United States, obesity affects 39.6 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of young people – defined as younger than 20. Further, 7.7 percent of adults and 5.6 percent of young people are severely obese.

“The overall prevalence of severe obesity in youth didn’t increase, but it’s still very concerning,” Benjamin said in the release.

Although tobacco use has been in a “consistent decline,” e-cigarette use has increased among adolescents over a six-year period and is the most common tobacco product used by those in that age group.

“One of my great fears is that we’re addicting a whole new generation to nicotine with e-cigarettes,” Benjamin said. Past research has shown that nicotine can increase blood pressure and heart rate and cause narrowing of the arteries.

In 2016, 15.5 percent of U.S. adults and 3.4 percent of adolescents reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month. Smoking tobacco (including secondhand smoke) is a root cause of an estimated 7.1 million deaths worldwide, the report states.

The report, published in the AHA journal Circulation, is based on data from the National Institutes of Health and other government sources.

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