THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM
Cardiovascular diseases comprise the most prevalent serious disorders in industrialized nations and are a rapidly growing problem in developing nations (Chap. 266e). Age-adjusted death rates for coronary heart disease have declined by two-thirds in the last four decades in the United States, reflecting the identification and reduction of risk factors as well as improved treatments and interventions for the management of coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and heart failure. Nonetheless, cardiovascular diseases remain the most common causes of death, responsible for 35% of all deaths, almost 1 million deaths each year. Approximately one-fourth of these deaths are sudden. In addition, cardiovascular diseases are highly prevalent, diagnosed in 80 million adults, or ~35% of the adult population. The growing prevalence of obesity (Chap. 416), type 2 diabetes mellitus (Chap. 417), and metabolic syndrome (Chap. 422), which are important risk factors for atherosclerosis, now threatens to reverse the progress that has been made in the age-adjusted reduction in the mortality rate of coronary heart disease.
For many years cardiovascular disease was considered to be more common in men than in women. In fact, the percentage of all deaths secondary to cardiovascular disease is higher among women (43%) than among men (37%) (Chap. 6e). In addition, although the absolute number of deaths secondary to cardiovascular disease has declined over the past decades in men, this number has actually risen in women. Inflammation, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and the metabolic syndrome appear to play more prominent roles in the development of coronary atherosclerosis in women than in men. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is more frequently associated with dysfunction of the coronary microcirculation in women than in men. Exercise electrocardiography has a lower diagnostic accuracy in the prediction of epicardial obstruction in women than in men.
Cardiovascular disorders often present acutely, as in a previously asymptomatic person who develops an acute myocardial infarction (Chap. 295), or a previously asymptomatic patient with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (Chap. 287), or with a prolonged QT interval (Chap. 277) whose first clinical manifestation is syncope or even sudden death. However, the alert physician may recognize the patient at risk for these complications long before they occur and often can take measures to prevent their occurrence. For example, a patient with acute myocardial infarction will often have had risk factors for atherosclerosis for many years. Had these risk factors been recognized, their elimination or reduction might have delayed or even prevented the infarction. Similarly, a patient with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may have had a heart murmur for years and a family history of this disorder. These findings could have led to an echocardiographic examination, recognition of the condition, and appropriate therapy long before the occurrence of a serious acute manifestation.