The number of people dying prematurely from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK is on the rise for the first time in 50 years, according to an analysis conducted by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
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The BHF says that stark inequalities could be leading to avoidable deaths among people aged under 75 and is now setting new goals for the UK to reduce the premature death rate.
According to the latest national health statistics, there has been an upward trend in deaths from the diseases since 2014. Conditions such as heart attacks and stroke accounted for 42,384 deaths among people aged under 75 in 2017, compared with 41,042 deaths in 2014.
The number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases before they reach the age of 65 is also on the increase, with the figure in 2017 at 18,668, compared with a figure of 17,982 in 2012.
This represents a 4% rise in death rates from the diseases over the last five years, as opposed to what had been a 19% decline in the death rate five years previously.
‘We are deeply concerned’
Chief executive at BHF, Simon Gillespie, says: “In the UK we’ve made phenomenal progress in reducing the number of people who die of a heart attack or stroke. But we’re seeing more people die each year from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK before they reach their 75th, or even 65th, birthday. We are deeply concerned by this reversal.”
The BHF says that the reduction in death rates has slowed and that this, combined with an ever-increasing population, are two factors partly contributing to the problem. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of people who died prematurely from the diseases fell by just 9%, whereas between 2007 and 2012, the rate had fallen by 25%.
The slowdown in improvement follows decades of progress that had reduced the annual death count by half since the 1960s, partly through improved treatments and partly through improved lifestyle factors such as a decline in smoking rates.
The findings come as the BHF launches a new strategy, which is setting new goals for the UK to halve the rates of premature death and disability from stroke by 2030. It is also setting the goal of increasing heart attack survival by 90% within this time limit.
Heart and circulatory diseases remain a leading cause of death in the UK, with millions at risk because of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. We need to work in partnership with governments, the NHS and the medical research community to increase research investment and accelerate innovative approaches to diagnose and support the millions of people at risk of a heart attack or stroke.”
Simon Gillespie, British Heart Foundation
‘Wider action’ needed
Commenting on potential reasons for the increase in the premature and potentially avoidable deaths, the BHF says uncontrolled and undiagnosed risk factors, as well as stark inequalities, may be contributing to the problem.
During the past five years, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes across the nation has increased by 18%. An estimated 920,000 individuals also have diabetes but have not been diagnosed. In addition, approximately 5 million people are thought to have high blood pressure that has also gone undiagnosed.
Premature death due to heart and circulatory disease is three times more common in some areas of the UK, compared with others and among the 15 million adults now living with obesity, the condition is significantly more prevalent in poorer areas.
GP and national clinical director for cardiovascular disease prevention, Matt Kearney, says the “BHF are right to point to the threat that preventable risks like obesity and type 2 diabetes pose to cardiovascular health and the need for wider action to tackle these problems at source, including tackling added salt and junk calories in our processed food.”
Raising £1 billion to fund research
As part of their new strategy, the BHF is aiming to raise one-billion pounds worth of funding for research over the next decade that will help to save and improve the lives of individuals who have heart and circulatory diseases.
Key measures at the heart of the strategy are to ensure earlier detection and treatment for those living with or at risk for the conditions, with more effective medications and interventions made available and accessible.
The BHF says that every individual, irrespective of age, gender, place of residence and ethnicity should have access to the treatment and healthcare support that they need.
"Only through the continued commitment of our researchers, the public’s generous support, and determination from governments, can we shift the dial and imagine a 2030 where fewer people live with the fear of heart and circulatory disease," concluded Simon.
Am I at risk of a heart and circulatory disease?
Also known as cardiovascular disease, heart and circulatory diseases include coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and vascular dementia. Other examples of these diseases are cardiomyopathy and heart valve disease.
Some of the main risk factors for the conditions include physical inactivity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, overweight or obesity, diabetes, and older age.
The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to develop cardiovascular disease, but there are many measures people can take to address these factors, reduce the risks and help to protect heart health.