More than 130 million Americans will have some form of cardiovascular disease by 2035, according to AHA projections

There are many men who could say it, but Jimmy Ledford knows for sure that he owes his life to his wife, LeeDean.


In 2003, coming home from a workout, Ledford said his wife noticed he didn’t look well.

“I was just kind of gray-looking,” he said. She insisted he go right away to see her boss, cardiologist Mac Bowman, of University Hospital. Tests showed he had a 99 percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery, often referred to as “the widowmaker” for its frequent association with sudden and deadly heart attacks.

‘That probably saved my life,” said Ledford, who is in cardiac rehabilitation at University after a second stent late last year.

In the near future, there will be many millions more like him, and the cost of their care could threaten to “bankrupt” the country if changes aren’t made, American Heart Association President Steven Houser said. Its new findings could have important implications for health care reform.

The group released “fairly disturbing” new projections Tuesday that more than 130 million Americans will have some form of cardiovascular disease by 2035, with a total of both direct and indirect costs, such as lost productivity, of $1.1 trillion, Houser said.

The new report reflects a few unsettling trends. Improved treatment and research had been cutting the rate of deaths from heart disease by an average of 3.7 percent each year from 2000 to 2011, according to the report.

“But in 2015, death rates from heart disease rose by 1 percent for the first time since 1969,” House said. “Now, more Americans are developing major risk factors for heart disease and stroke because of unhealthy behaviors and environments. We’re concerned about this situation.”

The last time the association released projections, in 2011, it predicted that the number of Americans with some form of cardiovascular disease would exceed 40 percent by 2030, he said. But in 2015, the percentage reached 41.5 percent, 15 years earlier than the group had predicted.

“The burden of cardiovascular disease is growing faster than our ability to combat it,” Houser said. “And our new report indicates it could get much worse in the coming years.”

By 2035, 131.2 million Americans, or 45 percent of the population, will have some form of heart disease, and the direct and indirect costs will increase from $555 billion a year to $1.1 trillion.

Heart disease “is on a course that could bankrupt our nation’s economy and health care system,” Houser said.

Even before the country gets to that point, the large percentage of people with heart disease should be considered by those preparing to potentially change the Affordable Care Act, he said, as President Trump and leading members of Congress are in the process of doing.

“As this report shows, we have and will continue to have significant numbers of Americans with pre-existing cardiovascular disease conditions,” Houser said. “We estimate that more than 50 percent of adults under age 65 have conditions that would have prevented them from obtaining health insurance before the Affordable Care Act.”

Keeping the law’s prohibitions against denying people health insurance because they have pre-existing conditions is “critical for anyone who has cardiovascular disease, and they must be maintained, in our view,” he said. Also, keeping the law’s emphasis on prevention and access to primary care and medication will be “key” for combating heart disease in the future, Houser said.

Much of the increase foreseen in the future is not only from the aging population but also from the increasing prevalence of obesity and type II diabetes, which are closely linked to heart disease, he said. Thus the best solutions are turning around unhealthy lifestyles and environments, Houser said.

“One of the ways out of this is to do all we can to build a culture of health within our country that explains to folks how they can lead a healthy lifestyle and what the health benefits of a healthy lifestyle will be,” he said. “That’s very difficult, but we’re trying, and I think if we work together as a country we can do better. If we don’t do better, we can see the future.”

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