The number of people dying from stroke in the United States has declined dramatically since the 1970s, largely because of improved prevention and treatment options, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

In a statement published Thursday in the journal Stroke, the organization said a review of scientific research and statistics showed a variety of factors have contributed to the drop, including public health efforts to lower blood pressure and control hypertension, improved control of diabetes and abnormal cholesterol levels, and better, faster care and treatment techniques.

In men and women of all racial/ethnic groups and ages, deaths from stroke have dropped from the nation’s third-leading killer to No. 4 after ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease, said Daniel T. Lackland, Dr. P.H., chair of the statement writing committee and professor of epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, S.C.

“The decline in stroke deaths is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries,” he said. “The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third leading cause of death.”

Lackland said the results show that making the effort to lower your blood pressure, stop smoking, control your cholesterol and diabetes, exercise and eat less salt can lower your stroke risk.

“We can’t attribute these positive changes to any one or two specific actions or factors as many different prevention and treatment strategies had a positive impact,” Lackland said. “Policymakers now have evidence that the money spent on stroke research and programs aimed at stroke prevention and treatment have been spent wisely and lives have been saved.

According to AHA statistics, the relative rate of stroke deaths fell by 37 percent and the actual number of stroke deaths declined by 23 percent between 1999 and 2009. During the same time, the cardiovascular disease death rate declined by 33 percent.

Lackland said although all groups showed improvement, age, racial and geographic disparities with stroke risks still exist.  Among women and blacks, for example, stroke remains the second-leading cause of death.

“We need to keep doing what works and to better target these programs to groups at higher risk,” he said.