Do you live in a heart disease hotspot?

Heart disease, which can include several types of medical conditions, is the leading cause of death in the United States. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. Heart disease can be congenital or caused by conditions like coronary artery disease, and it can result in heart attacks and heart failure.

In fields like epidemiology and public health, the term “hotspots” has been used to refer to areas of elevated disease emergence or prevalence, as well as areas of high transmission risk. The National Center for Biotechnology Information encourages the use of more precise terms, such as “burden hotspot,” “transmission hotspot,” and “emergence hotspot.”

This distinction is necessary so local and federal public health officials can make decisions regarding intervention and disease control, and so you can decipher available information and make informed choices about your health.

Why are heart disease hotspots important?

The American Heart Association (AHA) conducted a comprehensive study on the current and projected prevalence of heart disease, which includes factors such as gender, race and ethnicity. However, public health officials are becoming more interested in how geographic factors such as recreation, transportation, crime and unemployment affect your health.

Think of these factors as yet another data point to include in your full profile of health to help you understand your health risks, put symptoms in context and plan your best path to well-being.

“In many ways, your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code when it comes to health,” said Jay Butler, chief medical officer and director of public health for the state of Alaska.

The more you know
Do you think you live in a heart disease hotspot? The CDC created an interactive map showing heart disease mortality by state. This data, along with information about heart disease, prevention, and treatment will give you the tools to take control of your cardiovascular health.

An unlikely contributor to hypertension: your environment

If you’re not familiar with hypertension, it’s a condition that essentially means you have elevated blood pressure – and it’s an increasing cause for concern in the United States. In January 2018, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that over 103 million American adults had high blood pressure. This represents nearly half of the adult population!

Hypertension can have a profound impact on your life because it raises your risk for heart disease and stroke.

There are an array of potential causes for hypertension – from aging and drug use to infection and diet. But one of the more unexpected causes – and one that you can take action against – is your environment.

In 2018, researchers found that every human being walks around with his or her own unique “environmental cloud” – also known as the exposome cloud – which is made up of the thousands of pathogens, beneficial bacteria, chemical compounds (like insecticides or carcinogens) and particulate matter that we are exposed to in our daily lives. If you live in Los Angeles and spend hours in traffic driving to your office every day, your exposome cloud will likely look very different from someone who works on a farm in Vermont.

If you are in a more urbanized or industrialized area, particulate matter associated with air pollution may be the greatest cause for concern when it comes to hypertension. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 24% of all deaths from stroke and 25% of all deaths from ischemic heart disease are due to poor air quality.

After conducting a highly controlled study, researchers found that with every slight increase (meaning less than about a quarter of a tiny raindrop) of particulate matter concentrations, the incidence risk of hypertension is raised by 11% (Huang et al, 2019).

The causes of hypertension can be varied and complex – but taking a close look at the air quality you come in contact with every day and taking steps to improve it can be an important preventive tool when it comes to this serious disease.