Death rates from coronary heart disease (CHD) in the European Union have decreased by more than half in many countries since the 1980s, according to new research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The finding, published in the European Heart Journal, found that close to all EU countries have experienced a large and significant reduction in death rates from CHD over the past three decades in both women and men, when all ages were observed together.

Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the UK.. CHD is a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to the heart.

It is usually caused by plaque accumulation on the artery walls (atherosclerosis). CHD causes chest pain, shortness of breath, heart attack, and other symptoms.

In 2010, deaths rates from heart disease were halved in the US because Americans were smoking less, watching their cholesterol and controlling their high blood pressure. Experts say that drop was also due to therapies for heart disease, but most importantly preventing heart disease from developing in the first place.

In 2009, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that the rate of deaths and hospital admissions for heart disease fell by 30% over the previous decade in Canada.

Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:

  • genetics
  • smoking
  • uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • emotional/mental stress

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“The picture of heart disease mortality may be improving but we’re an awful long way from back-patting and hand-clapping. More than two million people are battling coronary heart disease in the UK and, while our work in science labs and improving prevention and care has made a huge difference, that’s two million people too many.

After such rapid and far-reaching reforms to our healthcare system, it’s now vitally important politicians and clinicians don’t lose sight of the fact that coronary heart disease is still the UK’s single biggest killer. We must continue our efforts to make sure that no one dies prematurely of heart disease.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald