The first description of angina pectoris was published by English physician William Heberden in 1772. However, heart attacks and coronary heart disease were not well understood at the time. In fact, throughout the 19th century, sudden death that occurred during an attack of angina was usually ascribed to indigestion. It was not until 1912 that American physician James Herrick clearly described the relationship between blood clots in the coronary arteries and heart attack.
In the early decades of the 20th century, deaths from coronary heart disease began to increase, particularly in the United States and many other industrialized nations. Better hygiene, immunization, and the advent of antibiotics reduced deaths from infectious diseases, which had previously been the leading cause of death. More people were living longer, causing the prevalence of coronary heart disease to increase simply because the disease often does not cause problems until people are middle-aged or older. At the same time, standards of living improved in industrialized countries, and people began to eat more meat and more fatty food, and exercised less.
(History of Heart Disease)
By the 1940s, coronary heart disease had reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Scientists began to investigate the risk factors that made people vulnerable to the disease. One of the most influential studies was the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and continues today. Initially, scientists tracked more than 5,000 residents of a small town in Massachusetts, collecting data about possible risk factors and the prevalence of heart attacks in the community. This study helped scientists identify three key risk factors for coronary heart disease—high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high blood cholesterol. Today, the study also includes the children of the original participants, and scientists continue to gather information on coronary risk factors.(History of Heart Disease)
In the United States, the death rate from coronary heart disease has been declining in recent years. In part, this decline is due to medical advances such as the development of CCUs and clot-dissolving drugs, which have made fewer heart attacks fatal. Other advances, such as various medications, angioplasty, and bypass surgery, prevent some heart attacks. While the incidence of coronary heart disease has lessened as many people have adopted healthier lifestyles, many other people still have habits that put them at risk for coronary heart disease. Experts estimate that more than 46 million adults in the United States smoke, 105 million have cholesterol above 200 mg/dl, 73 million have hypertension, 61 million are obese, 17 million have diabetes, and more than 90 million do not exercise at all. Many experts hope that as more people adopt healthier lifestyles, deaths from coronary heart disease will continue to decline.
(History of Heart Disease)