Which counties have the highest rates of heart disease?
Heart disease is responsible for more than 610,000 deaths every year in the U.S., making it the leading cause of death in America. The American Heart Association estimates that 40.5 percent of the U.S. population will have some form of cardiovascular disease by 2030.
There are many types of conditions that affect the heart, but ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease, is the most common type. Caused by the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, ischemic heart disease accounts for roughly 370,000 deaths annually in the U.S. The disease is most prevalent among older age groups.
As the average age of the U.S. population increases, the incidence and financial burden of heart disease is expected to rise. But not all states will be affected equally. Within the U.S., incidence rates of the disease vary substantially.
With that in mind, HealthGrove, a health data site by Graphiq, found the places with the highest rates of heart disease in the U.S. Using data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the HealthGrove team ranked the U.S. counties with the highest percentage of Medicare beneficiaries with ischemic heart disease in 2014.
In general, counties in the South and Midwest have the highest rates of ischemic heart disease, especially compared to locations in New England and the West. Texas in particular has high concentrations of ischemic heart disease, containing eight of the top 10 counties. Sutton County, Texas, has the highest rate in the country, with 58.6 percent of the Medicare population afflicted. Florida — a state with a significant elderly population — also has elevated rates of heart disease compared to most of the country.
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On the other end of the spectrum, six of the top 10 counties with the lowest rates of ischemic heart are located in Colorado, but the lowest place is Bethel Census Area in Alaska, with a rate of 10 percent. Again, it's important to note that the data here only looks at the rates of heart disease among Medicare beneficiaries, not the total population. Medicare covers people 65 and older, as well as certain younger people with disabilities.
Why might certain regions in the country be more susceptible to heart disease than others? The Global Health Data Exchange breaks down the risk factors of ischemic heart disease into three general categories: metabolic risks, behavioral risks and environmental risks.
Worldwide, the biggest risk factors for ischemic heart disease are dietary risks (26.1 percent) and high systolic blood pressure (21.1 percent). However, those figures change when focusing solely on the U.S. Dietary risks become a greater risk factor — responsible for 27.8 percent of mortality — while low physical activity and high body mass index also increase in significance. Although a relatively small contributor in the U.S., living in areas with high levels of air pollution can also exacerbate ischemic heart disease.
To reduce your risk for heart disease, the CDC recommends lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise, eating healthy and no smoking.