NEW HAVEN (CBS Connecticut) – We’re making great strides in the war against heart disease and stroke, reports Live Science

Researchers examined medical records for nearly 34 million people ages 65 and older who had been hospitalized between 1999 and 2011.

They found that the rate of hospitalizations for heart attacks, heart failure and stroke went down an astounding 30 to 40 percent.

They also found hospitalization rates for unstable angina, a condition that blocks arteries and can lead to heart attacks, dropped by a whopping 83 percent.

The researchers compared the records of hospitalizations in 1999 to records from 2010 and found that those hospitalized in 2010 ha a 23 percent lower risk of dying within a year of treatment for heart attacks or unstable angina. And a 13 percent lower risk of dying within a year from heart failure or stroke.

Scientists credit lifestyle changes, such as the decline in smoking and an increase in exercise.

“Interestingly, these improvements happened in a period when there were no real ‘miracle’ clinical advancements,” said study researcher Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “Huge strides in lifestyle, quality of care and prevention strategies for cardiovascular health have seemed to have a ripple effect on saving lives,” he said.

Every year about 600,000 Americans die of heart disease, and about 720,000 suffer a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

“There is still more work to do as heart disease and stroke combined remain the leading cause of death and disability, but this study documents astonishing progress and national achievement,” Krumholz said.

The study is published in the journal Circulation.

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