By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Heart disease deaths among middle-aged people continue to increase. Heart disease and cancer are two of the leading causes of death for middle-aged Americans.

But while cancer fatalities are going down, the opposite is happening with heart disease.

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Heart disease isn’t just for the elderly anymore.

“Middle-aged Americans are dying more frequently over the past six years from cardiovascular disease. This is in contrast to the prior 15 years before, where death rates from cardiovascular disease were declining,” Dr. Luke Laffin, with the Cleveland Clinic, said.

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New research shows heart disease deaths declining for people over the age of 65. But for Americans between the ages of 44 and 65, and especially in women, there’s been an increase in cardiovascular fatalities.

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Doctors say conditions like obesity and diabetes, which cause heart disease, are also on the rise and are likely playing a role. There are several other indicators so it’s important to know your numbers.

“It’s really important just to understand your risk factors and not ignore them. We’re understanding that weight, diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia  — they all increase your risk of stroke and heart attack,” Laffin said.

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And there are some basic and important ways to decrease your risk for heart disease. The three biggies being don’t smoke, have a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

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Doctors say it’s important to be screened for heart disease even if you feel fine. Problems like high cholesterol and blood pressure don’t usually cause symptoms, so you could have a problem and not know.

Stephanie Stahl