The American Heart Association (AHA) has announced that after nearly a decade of steady decline, the death rate for people with pulmonary embolism (PE) reversed course and began rising over the past decade. The study was recently published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).
According to the AHA, the study found that death rates for PE dropped an average of 4.4% per year from 1999 to 2008, then began climbing an average of 0.6% per year. The biggest increases were for people under age 65.
“Death rates for PE are rising and seem to be doing so across age, race, and geographic regions,” said lead author Karlyn Martin (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, USA) in the AHA announcement.
“We know that [PE and deep vein thrombosis] are more common as people get older,” Martin continued. “So, we expected there to be higher rates in older people. But we found a significant number of younger people dying from PE as well. We do not know what is causing it, but it is a worrisome trend that needs dedicated study to find out why.”
According to the AHA, the researchers found premature and preventable deaths from pulmonary embolism increased 23% from 2008 to 2018 among people ages 25 to 64, a trend that mirrors a rise in deaths from all causes among this age group.
The AHA press release also details that while white men showed the highest increase in PE mortality rates, the death rate for Black men and women was consistently higher than that of white people over the past two decades, the study found. As with the change in mortality rates, the study did not address why racial disparities existed.
“These data, for the first time, describe an alarming trend that is impacting Black Americans in particular,” said Mary Cushman (Vermont Medical Center, Burlington, USA) in the AHA announcement. She was not involved in the study.
“It is very hard to determine the cause, apart from speculation,” Cushman continued. She chaired the writing group for a recent scientific statement from the AHA and International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis that pinpointed future research priorities in VTE.
Cushman led prior research that found severe obesity to be a stronger risk factor for pulmonary embolism than DVT, suggesting “the continued rise in obesity may be playing a role. Other lifestyle factors like sedentary behavior, which is also on the rise, might be at play,” she said in the AHA press release. “But the rising rate in younger adults is a mystery to me and requires further study.”
She called the study “a wake-up call that we are going in the wrong direction.”
That means current efforts to prevent or treat pulmonary embolism do not seem to be working to keep death rates down, Martin said in the AHA announcement. “We need to know what’s underlying the drivers to prevent this and stop it from rising further.”