In Travis County, chronic diseases account for 3 out of every 5 deaths. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes make up the leading causes of death and disability in America. While Risks like tobacco use and excessive drinking can significantly influence the development of chronic disease, the social determinants of health often determine one’s quality of care.
While changes to combat inequities in care at the system level may take time, we can make small adjustments now to improve our health and protect ourselves during the pandemic. Most chronic diseases can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well, being physically active, and getting regular health screenings. In fact, 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable. At the beginning of the pandemic, the American Heart Association (AHA) released an article of tips and reminders for adults with hypertension, specifically, to stay healthy throughout the pandemic. These recommendations include limiting your intake of alcohol and caffeine and practices such as physical distancing and other practices that can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Half of the Medicare population in Travis County, about 38,400 adults, have reported high blood pressure. 1 High blood pressure can lead to multiple health threats and lower quality of life. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, understand your symptoms and risk, and make changes to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. In partnership with the American Medical Association, AHA collaborates with clinics and healthcare system to outline a practical, evidence-based approach to improve blood pressure control for patients through our Target: BP program. The U.S. Surgeon General highlighted our program in his Call to Action to Control Hypertension, published in October 2020.
The call to action emphasizes the need for hypertension control as a national priority to optimize patient care and build community support. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, the American Heart Association Central Texas team rallied community donors to raise critical funds for home blood pressure monitors to help patients in need across Travis County. With the rise in telehealth and virtual doctor visits during the pandemic, the importance of self-measured blood pressure monitoring has increased to ensure that patients are able to continue receiving care. In addition, our Austin Hypertension Control Collaborative meets regularly with clinical providers in Central Texas to share best practices and updates regarding new hypertension control policies.
Heart Disease still the leading cause of death
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, heart disease remained the leading cause of death in 2020, according to provisional data released by the CDC. During quarantine, people have delayed receiving care for heart attacks and strokes. Along with the increase in poor lifestyle behaviors such as limited exercise, the risk of cardiovascular diseases is likely to have increased. Experts say the influence of COVID-19 will affect rates of cardiovascular disease for years to come. That’s why our work at the American Heart Association is more important now than ever.
1 AHA Assessment Report: Health Outcomes in Travis County, TX (2021). Impact Central. American Heart Association.