The number of deaths from heart attacks and strokes dropped significantly in the European Union between 2000 and 2013, according to the latest figures from Eurostat.
However, cardiovascular diseases still cause enormous costs for society and the economy at large, according to the data released last week (4 May).
In 2013, approximately 1.1 million people lost their lives due to heart attacks (644,000 deaths) and strokes (433,000 deaths), accounting for slightly more than one in five deaths (21.6%).
Eurostat emphasised the marked improvement in mortality rates compared to 2000. That year, fatal heart attacks and strokes were responsible for 16.6% and 11.5% of all deaths respectively, a proportion which dropped significantly 13 years later (12.9% and 8.7%).
France best in class
The lowest share of deaths caused by heart attacks or strokes was recorded in France, where it stood below 7% in 2013 (6% for heart attacks and 5.7% for strokes). This is down from 8.3% and 7.2% respectively in 2000.
The French stats look particularly good when compared with countries of similar size, like Germany (14.4% and 6.5%) and Italy (11.9% and 9.7%).
Total numbers of deaths were also significantly lower in France (34,154 heart attacks and 32,573 strokes) when compared with Germany (129,127 and 58,673) and Italy (71,572 and 58,373).
Lithuania and Bulgaria
At the opposite end of the scale, the highest proportions of deaths related to heart attacks were registered in two Baltic States — Lithuania (36.7%) and Latvia (28.9%).
Regarding deaths caused by strokes, the highest numbers were recorded in two Balkan countries, Bulgaria (19.7%) and Romania (18.7%).
Eurostat also noted that the largest fall in the share of deaths due to heart attacks took place in Estonia (from 32.3% in 2000 to 23.0% in 2013) while the share of deaths due to strokes dropped most significantly in Portugal (from 19.8% to 11.5%).
The economic cost still high
Susanne Løgstrup, Director at the European Heart Network (EHN) a Brussels-based network of heart foundations and NGOs, told EURACTIV that up to 75% of falling death rates had been explained by risk factor improvements.
She said the greatest benefits came from “reductions in mean cholesterol concentrations, smoking prevalence and blood pressure levels”, while the remainder can be attributed to medical and surgical treatments.
However, she added that at 20% of total mortality heart disease and stroke continue to impose a “heavy burden”.
“With increasing levels of hospitalisation and surgical intervention, alongside high prescription rates, treatment has high economic and social costs,” Løgstrup noted.
Løgstrup added that the total cost of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), of which heart disease and stroke are the most common, was estimated at a staggering €196 billion per year.
“Moreover, inequalities in mortality from CVD account for almost half of the excess mortality in lower socio-economic groups in most European countries,” she concluded.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer are by far the biggest causes of death in the world, accounting for 60% of deaths.
Around four million people in Europe and 1.5 million in the European Union die each year from heart disease, according to the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The commonest forms of heart disease are coronary diseases and strokes.
To reduce the number of deaths from heart disease, the European Union has decided to take action on the factors behind cardiovascular health in its 2014-2020 health programme.