Researchers analyzed 50 years of data from the Framingham Heart Study and compared heart failure death rates from 1950 to 1969 with rates from the succeeding three decades. The study of 10,317 people concluded that survival improved for men and women, with deaths from heart failure decreasing by about 12 percent each decade.
The study reported that women benefited more from increasing survival rates than men did. In the 1990s, 59 percent of men with heart failure died within five years, a drop from 70 percent in the period from 1950 to 1969. For women, the five-year death rate from heart failure dropped from 57 percent to 45 percent.
The researchers also found that the number of new cases of heart failure in women had dropped by about one-third, but there was no change for men.
Researchers said they suspect the number of new cases of heart failure in men remained unchanged because of gender differences in the causes of the disease. Treatment has improved vastly for high blood pressure, a prominent cause for women. More people are surviving heart attacks, a main cause for men; however the damage to their heart makes them vulnerable to heart failure.
Despite the improvements, “we still do have to appreciate that this is a highly lethal condition,” Dr. Daniel Levy, director of the government-funded Framingham study, told the Associated Press.
“We think it is most likely that improvements in treatment are reducing the number of people with new heart failure and prolonging survival,” Levy said.
Heart failure occurs when a weakened heart cannot pump blood efficiently through the body. Approximately 4.8 million people have the disease, which mainly afflicts the elderly and is thought to be on the rise because of an aging U.S. population. It contributes to about 287,200 deaths a year.