COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A new report from the American Heart Association shows more people died from cardiovascular disease in 2020 than any year since 2003. 

“Cardiovascular disease is still the No. 1 killer in the U.S. and in the world year over year over year. And during the COVID pandemic it took to new heights,” said Dr. Nahush Mokadam, division director of cardiac surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and past president of the Central Ohio American Heart Association Board of Directors.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease in 2020, including stroke and heart disease, went up by 6.1% over the previous year. Doctors said COVID-19 played a major part in those deaths. Those who were already at risk for heart disease were also at higher risk for serious COVID disease, said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of preventative cardiology at the Wexner Medical Center.

“They ended up having more clotting issues,” Mehta said. “Those clotting issues could be blood clots in their lungs or clots in their heart arteries which resulted in heart attacks.”

In 2020, 928,741 people died in the US from cardiovascular related disease. In 2019, that number was 874,613. 

Another big takeaway from the report was the disproportionate number of deaths in the Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities. 

“It’s concerning, but also something the medical community has been aware of for a very long time is that underserved communities were the worst impacted,” Mokadam said. “These things tend to correlate between socioeconomic status and racial lines. It’s something we’ve seen not only in cardiovascular disease, but in many diseases.”

The populations that had less access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as COVID-19 treatment, also had higher cardiovascular risk factors, Mehta said.

“There’s a lot of efforts across the country in improving access. But it’s not enough,” Mehta said.

One problem health care providers ran into when confronting COVID-19 was misinformation and distrust, Mokadam said.

“There are certain groups of people that are more suspicious of healthcare providers, or should I say less likely to seek health care when the time is right,” Mokadam said. This really got exemplified during COVID.”

Other factors that impacted deaths from cardiovascular disease, Mehta said, were poor lifestyle habits, including poor stress management, poor sleep hygiene and lack of exercise.

Mokadam and Mehta both agree there is far more to be done to close the gap in health care disparities. But they said people can start reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease at home, including seeking yearly physicals and taking new symptoms seriously.