The number of people dying from heart disease in Europe has dropped
dramatically in recent decades, thanks largely to the success of
cholesterol-lowering drugs and drives to persuade people to quit smoking,
Cardiovascular disease death rates have more than halved in many countries in
the European Union since the early 1980s, according to their study in the
European Heart Journal.
Yet heart disease -- which can lead to fatal heart attacks and strokes --
remains a leading cause of death in the region, and rising rates of obesity and
diabetes could soon start to reverse the progress made in the past 30 years.
"For the most part and for most countries this is good news -- the death rates
have come down quite substantially in the last 30 years," said Nick Townsend of
Britain's Oxford University, who worked on the study.
"But what we don't want to say is that the job is done, because we know by
looking at trends in other conditions that they could reverse the trends we've
worked so hard to achieve in heart disease."
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases kill
around 17 million people globally each year.
Townsend's team looked at deaths from coronary heart disease between 1980 and
2009 in both sexes and four age groups: under 45, 45-54, 55-64, and 65
years and older.
Other factors a concern
They found that almost all EU countries had a large and significant decrease
in death rates from heart disease over the last three decades in both men and
women, when all the age groups were considered together.
Britain, Denmark, Malta, The Netherlands and Sweden had the largest declines
in death rates for both sexes, while among men in Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and
Poland, the decreases were small and not statistically significant. In Romanian
men there was a small but statistically significant increase.
Although the study did not look specifically for causes, Townsend said the
progress was probably mainly due to better drugs -- such as statins, to treat high
cholesterol and anti-hypertensives to treat high blood pressure -- as well as
lower rates of smoking in the region overall.
He warned, however, that other risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes,
were a real concern: "It could lead to a future time bomb, whereby these
fantastic gains in terms of heart disease mortality could start to reverse with
the impact of rises in obesity and diabetes."Commenting on the study's findings,
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation charity, said that
while the picture of heart disease mortality is improving "we're an awful long
way from back-patting and hand-clapping".
"More than 2 million people are battling coronary heart disease in the UK, and
while our work in science labs and improving prevention and care has made a
huge difference, that's 2 million people too many," he said in a statement.