The American Heart Association said Tuesday the number of Americans dying from heart disease and stroke has declined by a one-fourth since 1999, with 160,000 lives having been saved in just six years.
The group calculated large declines in death rates from 1999 through 2005 from these two leading killers using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We knew we were making incremental progress, but the magnitude of the change we see here is really surprising," Dr. Dan Jones, president of the American Heart Association, said.
The group found that the coronary heart disease death rate fell about 26 percent from about 195 per 100,000 Americans in 1999 to about 144 per 100,000 in 2005. The stroke death rate fell by about 24 percent from 62 per 100,000 in 1999 to 47 per 100,000 in 2005.
Jones said the drop mostly was attributed to innovative treatments, such as angioplasty, stents and clot-busting drugs -- all working to keep blood flowing to the heart and brain.
The development of more hospitals into primary stroke centers and the delivery of quicker and better care after a stroke have been positive developments as well, he said.
However, Jones warned the progress in death rates could be fleeting if Americans do not lower risk factors that lead to heart disease and stroke including obesity, lack of physical exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
"There are some signs that if we don't reinvigorate our efforts at prevention, that we may not see this progress continue," Jones said.
Heart disease, according to the CDC, is the leading cause of death in the United States, with stroke third behind cancer.