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17th Jan 2019

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Cardiovascular disease remains Europe's biggest killer

  • Cardiovascular disease accounts for 45% of all deaths in Europe and 37% of all deaths in the EU. (Photo: Getty Images)

Death rates from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes are falling but still cost the EU economy an estimated €210 billion a year, according to new figures.

Despite overall success in maintaining a fall in mortality rates, inequality between different parts of Europe persists, with central and Eastern Europe lagging behind.

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An annual study by the European Heart Network - an alliance of heart foundations and NGOs in 25 countries - shows that cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the biggest killer of men in all but 12 countries in the region, and the main cause of death in women in all except two.

CVD includes several conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and aortic disease.

Published on Valentine’s Day, the fifth edition of the European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics reported that more than 85 million people in the 53 countries of the European region - as defined by the WHO - live with CVD.

Within the EU countries, where around 49 million people have some form of CVD, research showed a total annual cost of €210 billion to the economy in 2015.

More than a quarter of the cost is attributed to lost productivity, and a further 21% to the “opportunity cost” of informal care, which is a measure of the amount of money that carers forgo to provide unpaid care for relatives or friends suffering from CVD.

Chief executive of the British Heart Foundation and president of the EHN, Simon Gillespie, said despite the advances made in preventing and treating heart conditions, the analysis was a “powerful reminder that cardiovascular disease remains Europe's biggest killer”.

Lifestyle factors

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, physical activity and alcohol consumption are contributors to heart disease, which is largely preventable.

With its ability to raise blood pressure, increase the risk of blood clots and inflame the arteries, smoking is a key risk and still a “key public health issue in Europe”, said the report.

Smoking has been decreasing across Europe over the last four decades but the pace has slowed and, in some cases, is flattening out or even rising, especially among women - for example in Slovenia, Latvia and the Netherlands.

In almost every country, the prevalence of smoking remains higher among men than women, but the gap is closing and women in EU countries are more likely to smoke than those in non-EU states.

In four former Soviet countries - Georgia, Moldova, Latvia and Russia - more than half of men aged over 15 are smokers. In Western and Northern Europe, the smoking rate among males was found to be less than 30%, with the exception of France, at 33%.

Increasingly sedentary lifestyles are a further risk factor, and researchers found that few adults took the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended amount of physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

Nearly half of all deaths

Of EU residents surveyed on sport or non-sporting exercise like walking, dancing or gardening, 42% said they never participated in these activities. In eight countries, mainly in Southern Europe, more than half of respondents reported never exercising.

Conditions such as obesity and diabetes, which increase the risk of heart disease, are on the rise, with diabetes rocketing by more than 50% over the last decade in some European countries.

Gillespie added: "Nearly half (45%) of all deaths in Europe in 2015 were caused by cardiovascular diseases. This shows the urgent need to fund more research towards faster, more accurate diagnosis and treatments, alongside work to help prevent people developing heart and circulatory diseases in the first place.”

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