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 Conquering Cardiovascular Disease on New Fronts

Thomas Ryan, MD

By Thomas Ryan, MD, Director, Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center

We may be winning the war against the world’s number one killer.

A recent study from Europe showed a substantial decline in death rates from cardiovascular disease in most European countries over the past 30 years . This gratifying trend seems to hold true for most countries and age groups, though not all. Similar success has been reported on this side of the Atlantic.

As clinicians, this good news raises two burning questions: Will the trend continue? What more can be done?

Have We Reached The Point of Diminishing Returns?

The credit for these favorable trends over the past half century goes to the decreasing rate at which healthy individuals develop heart disease, largely due to decreased tobacco use, as well as improvements in treating heart disease once it exists. The evidence supports both.

Certainly, early detection and better treatment options have contributed to improved outcomes and longer lives. Bypass surgery, statins, stents, pacemakers, defibrillators and beta blockers are all examples of life-prolonging therapies.

But can the rate of improvement using these methods continue, or will we reach a point of diminishing returns? Some would argue we’re already there. We spend more money than ever before for each incremental improvement. Much of this cost is incurred for advanced disease during the final months or years of life.

Turning attention to a different battlefront

How do we sustain the successes of the past and continue to win the war? The answer is both painfully obvious and exceedingly difficult—prevention.

We cannot afford to continue spending money on the treatment of cardiovascular diseases at the current rate. It’s not cost-effective and our economy can’t sustain it.

We will always need to provide high quality treatment for heart disease, but the focus needs to shift. We must begin to take prevention more seriously. We must learn to do it better; we must invest in it, and we must commit to it.

To this end, Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center has started a Wellness Series. This ongoing series of events and initiatives is designed to help our communities get healthy and stay healthy and includes fitness programs, educational events, cooking classes, risk factor screenings and athletic events.

This past June 30, we sponsored a very successful triathlon here in Columbus with more than 600 very healthy participants, including many who were participating in their very first triathlon ever—a great testament to such events’ ability to engage beginners on the path to wellness.

We are committed to pursuing prevention for the long-term. We understand that collaboration is critical for success, and we have teamed up with several key groups for the wellness initiatives, including the city of Columbus, Columbus Parks and Recreation, Ohio State’s Athletic Department, the Ohio State University College of Nursing, Sports Medicine, as well as our own Women’s Heart and Prevention Programs.

We are confident that we can make a difference and continue gaining victories over heart disease. What ideas do you have for prevention? I welcome your thoughts and would like to hear what’s working in your community. Please feel free to reach out to me at heartcenter@osumc.edu.