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Heart Disease Death Rates Creep Up

County by county map of the disparities in cardiovascular disease death rates.
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). US Health Map. Seattle, WA: IHME, University of Washington

It's a testament to modern medicine. Death rates from heart disease around the nation have been cut in half.

But new research sheds light on the wide disparities in cardiovascular death rates depending on geography.

Using death certificate data, a research group led by University of Washington Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Gregory Roth, did the most comprehensive analysis of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases in history.

They found that cardiovascular death rates have been cut in half since 1980, though are still the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2014, for instance, cardiovascular diseases accounted for more than 846,000 deaths, according to the research, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The interactive feature below shows cardiovascular death rates by county from 1980 through 2014. Rates have dropped significantly in every county, though there is wide variance in the rates throughout the years. Use the bar at the bottom to scroll through every county, or hover the cursor over each line graph for more detail.

But death rates can vary widely. For example, cardiovascular death rates are twice as high in Richmond, Martin and Columbus counties as they are in Chatham County.

"This kind of variation occurs on a really small geographic level. So even from one county to the next we see these huge gaps in health related to heart disease," said Roth. "We clear see higher rates of cardiovascular deaths in places that are poor, and we know that health care quality is worse in locations with lower incomes and lower levels of education."

The interactive map below shows the cardiovascular death rate by county in 2014. Hover the cursor over any county for more detail.

Moreover, there are early warning signs. Across the state and nation, cardiovascular death rates have begun to creep up again.

"Cardiovascular disease is down on average in the United States, but the rate that it's been going down has really flattened and in the last year or two we've seen very little decline at all. And in some states and counties we are actually seeing it go up again for the first time in 50 years," said Roth.

The interactive graphic below shows the difference in cardiovascular death rates between men and women. Note that cardiovascular diseases describes a whole category of causes, of which a few have been highlighted.

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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