Friday, August 29, 2008

HEALTH NEWS: Hospitalizations For Heart Failure Triple

(previously published here at

The number of patients hospitalized in the U.S. for heart failure and heart-related diseases almost tripled from 1979 through 2004 according to a recent study.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported this month that hospitalizations rose from 1.27 million to 3.86 million in this time span, and the trend likely will continue.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the study, which evaluated data from the National Heart Discharge Survey. More than 80 percent of those admitted to hospitals with any mention of heart failure were age 65 or older and most had Medicare or Medicaid.

In the study, Dr. Jing Fang, lead author and an epidemiologist with the CDC, said an aging American population largely accounts for the increases, because older patients more commonly suffer from heart failure and weakening of the heart.

Dr. Fang wrote, "the improvement in technology for treatment of patients with other heart diseases, such as [heart attacks], ... [helps] people with diseases of the heart live longer."

Hospitalizations due to actual heart failure account for up to 35 percent of heart-related hospital stays. The remaining cases had respiratory diseases and conditions such as pneumonia, diabetes and kidney failure.

Dr. Fang added, although better control of these conditions could reduce hospital visits for heart failure, once the condition becomes serious enough to warrant a visit, it cannot be cured.

These people keep coming back to the hospital, and "the best medicine [we] can do is to keep the heart functioning enough for the patient to have a good quality of life," he said.

No effective treatments for severe heart failure exist, said Dr. Javed Butler, director of heart failure research at Emory University, since "when you [talk] about medications that have been proven, they are all for chronic, stable outpatients. ... We don't have any proven medications for treatment at the hospital."

The report did not address cost of the increased hospitalizations over the given period, but the American Heart Association estimates it costs around $20 billion annually.

Considering the high cost, a major effort to develop in-hospital treatments for severe heart failure is needed, Dr. Butler said. "It is a least-studied, most costly problem. We need to get a better grasp on what we should be doing."

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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