08/20/2012 07:20 EDT | Updated 10/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Heart Failures Ontario: Rates Drop In Province, Youth Still At Risk

TORONTO - A study that looked at the number of new cases of heart failures in Ontario over a decade suggests the rates of incidence have dropped significantly.

The study, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Journal, found a 32.7 per cent decline in the number of patients diagnosed with heart failure in Ontario between 1997 and 2008.

That's an average annual decline of three per cent.

Dr. Jack Tu, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says the drop is in line with declines recently observed across Canada and in other countries.

The study does not directly attribute specific reasons for the decline, but Tu says drops in smoking rates and better hypertension control are likely factors that have affected the number of new cases in Ontario.

Older patients, particularly those over the age of 85, showed the greatest decline among all age groups, but the study cautions that younger people are the ones who will determine future trends.

"Younger Canadians are the generation most at risk now," said Tu, the study's senior author.

He cautioned that the study's findings are not all that rosy.

"It's a mixture of good news and bad news," he said in an interview.

"The good news is the frequency of heart failure is declining significantly. The bad news is, for those who do develop heart failure, the prognosis is still quite poor."

That's because in addition to the reduction in overall incidence of heart failure, the study showed only a marginal improvement in readmission numbers as well deaths following a heart failure diagnosis.

"We still need to improve survival rates," said Tu.

Researchers from University of Toronto, University Health Network and the Schulich Heart Centre contributed to the study that looked into 419,551 cases of heart failure in Ontario between April 1997 and March 2008.

The data came from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) database.

"What the study adds is that we show that (in) outpatients, the incidence of heart failure is also declining at similar rates as hospitalized patients," says Tu.

"There really is a decline that's not just in hospital settings."

ALSO: For more heart health benefits of chocolate, click through the slideshow:

  • It Reduces Stroke Risk
    A 2011 Swedish study found that women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who treated themselves to fewer than 9 grams of the sweet stuff.
  • It Boosts Heart Health
    Matija Puhek/500px
    Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk.
  • It Fills You Up
    Kohei Hara via Getty Images
    Because it's rich in fiber, dark chocolate can actually help keep you full, so you'll eat less, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and HuffPost blogger told The Huffington Post. Regular chocolate eaters might do themselves a favor by treating themselves to a bite instead of snacking on "11 other things first" he said. Dark chocolate does the trick much better than milk, according to a small study from the University of Copenhagen, and may even reduce cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
  • It May Fight Diabetes
    Julie Thompson
    A small Italian study from 2005 found that regularly eating chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes.
  • It Protects Your Skin
    Katerina Nanopoulou via Alamy
    Forget what you've heard about chocolate causing breakouts: Dark chocolate is actually good for your skin. The type of antioxidants called flavonoids found in dark chocolate offer some protection from UV damage from the sun. And no, that does not mean you can skip the sunscreen!
  • It Can Quiet Coughs
    Andrew Harding via Jupiter Images
    Can't stop coughing? An ingredient in chocolate called theobromine seems to reduce activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers hard-to-shake coughs. In late 2010, the BBC reported that scientists were investigating creating a drug containing theobromine to preplace cough syrups containing codeine, which can have risky side effects.
  • It Boosts Your Mood
    There's no denying that indulging your sweet tooth every once in a while feels great. Enjoying food is part of enjoying life, points out HuffPost Healthy Living's wellness editor, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald. Chocolate eaters also report feeling less stressed.
  • It Improves Blood Flow
    Lisa Capretto/OWN
    Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties that work in a similar way to aspirin, Dr. Fitzgerald writes, which can improve blood flow and circulation.
  • It Improves Vision
    Jamie Grill via Getty Images
    Because of chocolate's ability to improve blood flow, in particular to the brain, researchers at the University of Reading hypothesized in a small 2011 study that chocolate may also increase blood flow to the retina, thereby giving vision a boost.
  • It May Make You Smarter
    Getty Images
    That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols seems to make people feel more awake and alert, and, in a small British study, perform better on counting tasks.