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Huge variations in cardiovascular death rates across Europe

Death rates are far lower in Western Europe than the former Eastern Bloc countries

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Cardiovascular disease remains the biggest cause of death in Europe – but rates are far higher in the Eastern than in the Western European countries, an analysis* published in the European Heart Journal shows.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease have been declining, but there are still over four million deaths a year in Europe (45% of all deaths).

Eight countries - France, Israel, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK – now have cardiovascular death rates in women of less than 250 per 100,000 female population. In comparison, six Eastern European countries - the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - have death rates of over 1,000 per 100,000 women.

When it comes to men, three countries - Israel, France and Spain – have death rates of less than 300 per 100,000 male population, while two Eastern European countries - the Ukraine and Turkmenistan – have death rates in men over 1,500 per 100,000 population.

The difference in death rates between Eastern and Western Europe is also reflected in premature deaths. Switzerland, Norway, San Marino, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Israel and France have cardiovascular death rates of less than 80 per 100,000 men under 75 years, while Uzbekistan, Belarus and Turkmenistan have cardiovascular death rates of over 650 per 100,000. Among women under 75 years, cardiovascular death rates are less than 35 per 100,000 women in France, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, Iceland and Norway, while over 350 per 100,000 in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Nick Townsend, senior researcher at the British Heart Foundation Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention at the University of Oxford (UK), who led the research, said: “Although deaths from cardiovascular disease are decreasing overall in Europe, the increases we are seeing in obesity and diabetes will either counter that decrease, leading to a reversal of the favourable trend, or place an extra burden on health services in treating those at high risk of cardiovascular disease in order to prevent them from developing chronic cardiovascular conditions and to keep them alive into older age.”

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: “This analysis is a powerful reminder that cardiovascular disease remains Europe's biggest killer, despite the advances we've made in preventing and treating heart conditions through medical research. We can't be fooled into thinking the battle against heart disease is won.”

Overall, more women than men die from cardiovascular disease. Townsend said: “Cardiovascular disease results in 49% of deaths among women and 41% among men. To put this in context with deaths from other causes, coronary heart disease kills 20% of women in Europe each year, while two per cent die from breast cancer.”

* Nick Townsend, et al. Cardiovascular disease in Europe — epidemiological update 2015. European Heart Journal. First published online: 25 August 2015. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv428

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