America is losing the fight against heart disease, the nation's No. 1 killer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths in the United States every year. But not all people with this disease die from a heart attack.
Almost 6 million Americans currently have heart failure, a type of heart disease in which the heart cannot pump blood properly. This figure is projected to rise by 46 percent by 2030, resulting in more than 8 million people with this chronic, progressive condition, according to the American Heart Association's 2017 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update.
The reasons: More people are surviving heart attacks and thus face higher heart-failure risk afterward, according to Paul Muntner, Ph.D., a member of the AHA's statistics committee and a professor and vice chair in the epidemiology department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Another key driver is the aging of America, as this is a chronic condition that plagues the elderly. The rise in diabetes and obesity is also a trigger.
The survival rate is bleak. "Half of patients diagnosed with heart failure won't be alive within five years," said Rami Kahwash, a cardiologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. That is "basically equivalent to the most serious malignancy that we have, with the exception maybe of lung cancer," Kahwash said, adding that he believes the medical community has reached a "ceiling" when it comes to what medications can do for heart failure patients.
Yet what once seemed like a science-fiction pipe dream, such as a total artificial heart, is inching closer to reality, as dramatic leaps in technology are leading scientists to turn to innovative medical devices to treat and prolong the life of patients with heart failure.
"There have have been major advances in electronics and battery technology and material science" that have enabled researchers to produce devices for heart failure that are more effective, cheaper and more customizable than ever before, said Kenneth Ellenbogen, chair of cardiology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.