The US saw a significant increase in death rates for heart disease, diabetes and some other common killers in 2020, and experts think a big reason could be that many people with alarming symptoms pulled out of hospital for fear of being caught. Made the fatal mistake of staying away. coronavirus.

The death toll – posted online this week by federal health officials – add to a growing body of evidence that the number of lives lost directly or indirectly to the coronavirus in the US exceeds officially reported COVID-19 deaths by nearly 600,000. is far more. in 2020-21.

For months now, researchers have known that 2020 was the deadliest year in US history, primarily because of COVID-19. But data released this week showed the biggest increases in death rates from heart disease and diabetes were at least 20 years.

UCLA diabetes specialist Dr. Tannaz Moin said of the trends, “I would probably use the word ‘dangerous.

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Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 3.4 million Americans died in 2020, an all-time record. Of those deaths, more than 345,000 were directly attributed to COVID-19. The CDC also provided the number of deaths for some of the leading causes of mortality, including the nation’s top two killers, heart disease and cancer.

But the data released this week includes the death rate — that is, the relative death rate of the population — which is thought to be a better way to see the effect from year to year, as the population fluctuates.

Of the causes of death for which the CDC had full-year provisional data, nine registered an increase. These included Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, chronic liver disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Some of the increases were relatively small, but some were dramatic. The death rate from heart disease – which has been falling for a long time – rose from 161.5 a year earlier to 167 deaths per 100,000 population. This was only the second time in 20 years that the rate had increased. This jump of over 3% surpassed the less than 1% growth seen in 2015.

In raw numbers, there were about 32,000 more heart disease deaths than there were a year earlier.

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The number of diabetes deaths rose to 24.6 per 100,000 last year from 21.6 in 2019. That translates to 13,000 more diabetes deaths than in 2019. The 14% increase was the largest increase in diabetes mortality in decades.

The mortality rate from Alzheimer’s was 8%, Parkinson’s was 11%, hypertension was 12% and stroke was 4%.

The CDC only offered figures, not explanations. The agency also did not say how many of those who died were people who were infected with – and weakened by – the coronavirus but whose deaths were mainly attributed to heart disease, diabetes or other conditions.

Some experts believe that a major reason for this is that many patients did not seek treatment in an emergency because they feared being infected with the virus.

“When the hospitalization rate for COVID increases, we will see a dramatic drop in patients presenting to the emergency room with a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure,” said Northwestern University researcher Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, president-elect of the American Heart Institute.

Other possible explanations also indirectly point to the coronavirus.

He said many patients stopped taking care of themselves during the crisis, gained weight or stopped taking high blood pressure medications. Experts said the stress of the crisis, the disappearance of lockdown-related exercise options, and the loss of jobs as well as health insurance were all factors.

CDC data shows that growth in Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and West Virginia pushed all four into the group of states with the highest rates of death from heart disease. For diabetes, similar changes occurred in Indiana, New Mexico, West Virginia and a few other Southern and Plains states.

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The death rate from cancer, the nation’s number two killer, continued to decline during the year of COVID-19. It fell about 2% in 2020, similar to the decline seen from 2018 to 2019, even as cancer screening and cancer care declined or were often postponed last year.

Lloyd-Jones’s theory for the fall: Many victims of the virus were fighting cancer, “but COVID intervened and became the primary cause of death.”

Earlier research by demographer Kenneth Johnson at the University of New Hampshire found that an unprecedented 25 states had more deaths than total births last year.

The states were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee. , Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Traditionally there are more births than deaths in most states.