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Coronary heart disease remains UK’s biggest killer

Number of deaths from CHD has halved in a decade in the UK, but still far ahead of lung cancer and stroke

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 05 June 2019

The number of deaths every year in the UK from coronary heart disease (CHD) has almost halved over the past decade but is still far higher than the number of deaths from lung cancer or stroke, the UK’s next-biggest killers – and CHD is responsible for 18 times more UK deaths than road traffic crashes, according to new research. The authors of the study*, published today in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, said much of the decline in heart disease deaths might be down to the dramatic fall in smoking rates, but they warned that rising rates of obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes mean that fall in deaths from CHD could be reversed.

The researchers, led from the National Heart and Lung Institute Imperial College, London, analysed World Health Organisation data on deaths worldwide from CHD and other causes. They also compared the UK findings with long-term data from high, middle and lower income nations. They reported that:

  • The UK death rate from CHD halved between 2005 and 2015, from 80 deaths per 100,000 to 46 per 100,000.
  • Heart disease still caused double the rate of UK deaths compared with lung cancer (the second biggest cause of death) in 2015, and 18 times more than traffic accidents (2.5 per 100,000 people); stroke was the third largest cause of death in the UK, with 24 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • The UK death rate from infectious diseases, liver disease and respiratory conditions was five, 10 and 20 per 100,000 respectively.
  • Japan and France had some of the lowest rates of heart disease deaths, with 20 per 100,000 in both countries (2014 data)
  • The rate of heart disease deaths in Germany, Poland and Russia (2013 data) were higher than that of the UK in 2015, with 55, 55 and 220 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Italy, Norway and Spain had lower heart disease death rates than the UK in 2015, with 35, 35, and 30 per 100,000 (respectively)
  • The rate of heart disease in the USA was 60 deaths per 100,000 in 2015 – a drop from 90 per 100,000 in 2005.

The researchers said the decline in CHD mortality over the past decade is cause for celebration, but that the rate is still too high because of factors such as obesity and diabetes. They commented: “Much of the decline in heart disease deaths may be due to a fall in the number of people who smoke. We’ve seen a significant drop in smoking rates in recent years which has been good news for our hearts. However, obesity, blood pressure and rates of type 2 diabetes are on the rise, and if we don’t keep tabs on these – and encourage people to follow healthy lifestyles, we could see the trend of falling heart disease deaths reverse in the future.”

They added: “This analysis shows the number of heart disease deaths in Eastern Europe are 20 times higher than in higher income nations. This suggests the economy of a nation is a major contributor to heart disease risk – and that citizens of poorer countries may have less access to healthcare and public health interventions, which means heart disease deaths remain high.”

They said their data suggest that overall, we need more public health interventions and initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyles to tackle the millions of lives lost across the globe due to heart disease.

They concluded: “IHD [ischaemic heart disease] remains the single largest cause of death in countries of all income groups. Rates are different between countries and are falling in most countries, indicating great potential for further gains. On the horizon, future improvements may become curtailed by increasing hypertension in some developing countries and more importantly global growth in obesity.”


*Nowbar AN, Gitto M, Howard JP, et al. Mortality from ischemic heart disease: analysis of data from the World Health Organization and coronary artery disease risk factors From NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 2019; 12.

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