WEDNESDAY, May 11 (HealthDay News) -- Over the last decade, the number of Medicare patients hospitalized for cardiac issues dropped, accounting for a smaller slice of the 10-year hospitalization rate than non-heart related issues, new research indicates.

The finding stems from the largest effort launched in the past decade (1998 to 2008) to gauge Medicare hospitalization patterns. In the latest year, Medicare hospitalizations totaled about 13 million patients, the study authors said.

The research is scheduled to be presented Thursday at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke meeting, in Washington D.C.

"We're seeing that common cardiac diseases are accounting for a smaller proportion of hospitalizations within the United States," study lead author Amit H. Sachdev, a fourth-year medical student at New York University School of Medicine, said in a heart association news release. "We believe this may reflect an improvement in medical care and preventive efforts and in delivering health care in the United States over the last decade."

Sachdev and his colleagues found that while six of the eight major causes for hospital admission have been on a downward trajectory over the past decade, heart disease hospitalization rates have fallen more quickly than those attributed to other causes.

Among heart health issues, they found that coronary artery disease hospitalizations among Medicare patients dropped the most (32 percent), followed by those prompted by heart attacks (down about 22 percent). Heart failure hospitalizations also fell by nearly 17 percent, the report found.

Conversely, hospitalizations because of an irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia) bucked the trend, going up by more than 10 percent.

The researchers also found that a number of non-heart related issues fell as causes for Medicare hospitalizations, including pneumonia, fluid and electrolyte disorders, and hip fractures.

The researchers speculated that a focused government effort to tackle heart disease may account for the observed drop in related hospitalizations.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of hospitalization in the United States, so you see a lot of government money focused at cardiac conditions," Sachdev said.

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

To learn more about heart disease visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.