Mortality rates continue to fall for common age-related diseases, especially cardiovascular conditions. Yet the overall death toll increases because the population is larger and on average older. Gaining medical control over degenerative aging only grows more important with the passing of time: there are so very many lives to be saved.
As the global population pushes past 7 billion and more people reach old age, the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases is on the rise. Cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of premature death in the world, include heart attacks, strokes, and other circulatory diseases. At the same time, efforts to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases appear to be working as the rise in deaths is slower than the overall growth of the population. Globally, the number of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases increased by 41% between 1990 and 2013, climbing from 12.3 million deaths to 17.3 million deaths. Over the same period, death rates within specific age groups dropped by 39%, according to an analysis of data from 188 countries. Death rates from cardiovascular diseases were steady or fell in every region of the world except western sub-Saharan Africa.
South Asia, which includes India, experienced the largest jump in total deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, with 1.8 million more deaths in 2013 than in 1990 - an increase of 97%. In line with global trends, the increase in deaths from cardiovascular disease in India is driven by population growth and aging without the decrease in age-specific death rates found in many other countries. This pattern is reversed to some extent in the Middle East and North Africa, which includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Jordan. In these regions, population growth and aging have been offset by a significant decline in age-specific death rates from cardiovascular disease, which has kept the increase in deaths to just under 50%. East Asia experienced a similar rise of almost 50%, 1.2 million additional deaths, because declines in the risk of cardiovascular diseases offset the effect of a rapidly aging population. Taken together as a region, the United States and Canada were among a small number of places with no detectable change in the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases, because aging and population growth balanced out declines in age-specific death rates. The same was true in southern Latin America, including Argentina and Chile, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Researchers found that population aging contributed to an estimated 55% increase in cardiovascular disease deaths globally, and population growth contributed to a 25% increase. These demographic factors are not the only drivers behind the trend of increasing deaths and falling death rates. Changes in the epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases is another factor. Ischemic heart disease is both the leading cause of death worldwide and accounts for almost half of the increase in the number of cardiovascular deaths, despite a 34% decrease in age-specific death rates. Researchers also examined whether wealthier countries fared better than lower-income countries when it comes to cardiovascular deaths and found there was not a strong correlation between income per capita and lower age-specific death rates. The dramatic improvement in the death rates seen in some regions was attributed to prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, in part by reducing risk factors including smoking.