The number of people with peripheral artery disease, a debilitating condition that can lead to heart attack and stroke rose nearly 24%, from 164 million to 202 million worldwide, over the past decade.
A new analysis from 2000 to 2010 found that although rates of peripheral artery disease are increasing in all parts of the world, 70% (140 million) of sufferers live in low or middle-income countries, mainly in southeast Asia (54 million) and western Pacific regions (46 million).
Peripheral artery disease is caused by plaque accumulation in arteries that carry blood to the limbs. The condition increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and severely limits walking ability.
The analysis of published studies on peripheral artery disease also revealed that the number of people with the condition increased nearly 29% in low-income countries and by 13% in high-income countries, mainly in Europe, where there were 40.5 million cases in 2010.
Longer life expectancy and changing lifestyles appear to be driving this dramatic rise. There was a more than 35% increase in cases among people older than 80, and peripheral artery disease now affects one in 10 people aged 70 and one in six people older than 80.
Main risk factors
Rates of the disease are higher among men in high-income countries than men in low and middle-income countries, and it may be more common in women especially younger women than in men in low- and middle-income countries, according to the findings, which were published July 31 in the journal The Lancet.
Many of the main risk factors for peripheral artery disease such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are the same as those for other major cardiovascular diseases and can be prevented and treated, the analysis confirmed.
"Despite its alarming prevalence and cardiovascular risk implications (people with peripheral artery disease have a roughly three times higher risk of heart attack and stroke), little attention has been paid to this disease," lead author Gerry Fowkes, from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, said in a journal news release. "Our findings are a call to action."
Fowkes said the condition has become a global problem and can no longer be regarded as a disease that affects mostly people in high-income countries. As the world's population ages, peripheral artery disease will become even more common, and there is an "urgent need" to assess prevention and treatment strategies in all countries.
The analysis likely underestimates the number of people worldwide with the condition, Alan Hirsch and Sue Duval, from the University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Public Health, wrote in an accompanying editorial in the journal.
"Future progress in the improvement of global health will require a global strategic plan for peripheral artery disease," they wrote. "When any disease affects more than 200 million people, it is time to take action to prevent and control its global burden."
One in 20 Americans over age 50 has peripheral artery disease, according to the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The American Heart Association has more about peripheral artery disease.