Europe’s number one killer still needs attention, experts say


Cardiovascular disease accounts for more deaths than any other disease in the EU, and though it has received a lot of attention over the past decades, much more needs to be done at EU level, experts say.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 52% of female deaths and 42% of male deaths in the EU. Therefore, the Parliament's special MEP Heart Group, the European Heart Network and the European Society of Cardiology have introduced the EU's first 'Cardiovascular Health Week', with events to put the spotlight on issues related to cardiovascular disease.

Speaking at one of the events Tuesday (5 November), Nick Townsend of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Group at Oxford University said "cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death for women in all the EU countries". 

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death amongst men in all but four EU countries, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain. Over 20% of deaths under the age of 65 are caused by cardiovascular problems in the EU.

But mortality has decreased over the last 30 years, Townsend said.

Cardiovascular disease is estimated to cost the EU economy over €196 billion per year, with healthcare expenditure varying from 4% in Luxembourg to 17% in Estonia, Latvia and Poland.

Ramon Luengo-Fernandez from the Health Economics Research Centre at the Department of Public Health at Oxford University said that out of the €196 billion, €106 billion is spent on healthcare, €44 billion (22%) is spent informal care costs, €27 billion (14%) goes to early mortality and €19 billion is spent on absence from work or early retirement.

Uneven death rates

While the costs of cardiovascular disease are great in the EU, the death toll is also uneven.

Death rates from coronary heart disease are generally higher in Central and Eastern Europe than in Northern, Southern and Western Europe. Death rates from strokes are also many times higher in Central and Eastern Europe than in the rest of Europe.

Michael Hübel, who heads the health and diseases programme at the Commission's Health and Consumers department (DG Sanco) said that cross-policy was an important aspect of coming up with the right response.

"A lot of the unevenness of the cardiovascular diseases across Europe is due to a certain amount of unevenness in terms of the risk factors being people smoking, people being overweight, people not undertaking physical activity and consumption of alcohol to a lesser extent. So the first element to an EU response challenge is to help address these risk factors at EU level," Hübel said.

Approximately four million people in Europe and 1.9 million people in the EU die of cardiovascular disease each year, according to the European Society of Cardiology. The main forms of heart disease are coronary heart disease and stroke.

To reduce the amounts of death from heart diseases, European Union countries agreed to tackle the underlying health determinants behind cardiovascular health in its 2003-2008 health action programme.

A key element in fighting cardiovascular disease is to address the underlying health determinants, including tobacco use, obesity, diet and physical activity and high blood pressure.

  • 4-8 Nov.: Cardiovascular Health Week in the European Parliament.

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