Heart disease: The forgotten killer?

Open navigator

1. Neglected threat

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is still the UK’s number one killer, yet it is only 10th on a recent poll of health concerns. Are we in danger of squandering widespread health gains through complacency over lifestyle and medical treatments?

The near fatal heart attack – suffered live on stage – of Phoenix Nights comedian Ted Robbins made national headlines. As a heavyweight, middle aged, northern man he fitted both the popular stereotype and statistical favourite of the likely victim. But does Ted’s story carry an important message about the risks we all run and how we can keep this ‘forgotten killer’ at bay?

A presenter with BBC Radio Lancashire, Ted documented his recovery in the weeks and months that followed. Cameras for BBC Inside Out follow him as he looks back on his journey.

2. Meeting with ghosts

Ted returns to the arena where he nearly died

It was the first night. It was his big entrance. Twenty thousand adoring fans were hanging on his every word. As the villain in Phoenix Nights - the cult comedy about a down at heel nightclub stranded between Manchester and Bolton – which was enjoying a hugely anticipated revival for Comic Relief, there might never be a bigger show business moment. But just moments after stepping on stage at the Manchester Arena on 31 January 2015, Ted suffered a cardiac arrest. A doctor and paramedic from the audience kept him alive.

3. Heart disease in figures

Statistics relating to cardiovascular disease


The British Heart foundation says it has produced its most comprehensive heart health analysis ever

British Heart Foundation

The statistics show that while deaths have fallen sharply, cardiovascular disease is still the major killer and the burden on health services had grown.

4. Cruel killer

“It can be seen as a forgotten killer,” said Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation. “And that will spell trouble, because it’s a cruel killer too."

Poor care

“It hits on three levels. Firstly it can kill so suddenly. People don’t see it coming, it often doesn’t show. And while it’s tragic for the individual, it so often leaves a family behind, partner, children and it often means the bread winner has gone. But there are 7 million people living with heart disease in the UK and this can be debilitating and painful and has a lower survival rate that some cancers. And even the palliative care for heart disease is neglected, so those last weeks can be harder.”

5. Not just the heart....

Wondering at the difference between CHD and CVD? Click on the guide below to find out

This content uses functionality that is not supported by your current browser. Consider upgrading your browser.

6. Lifestyle overhaul

After hospital treatment, Ted was put on an ongoing regime of medication. But even more important was looking at his lifestyle choices.

Ted made a film about the impact this has had on his daily routine and family life.

7. Risk Factors

Professor Kevin Fenton, from Public Health England, said: “The reduced death rates have been largely achieved through reductions in risk behaviours such as smoking and improvements in medical care. But heart disease remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and ill health in England. Most of us can do something to reduce our chances of having a heart attack."

  • Smoking - Regular smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack.
  • Weight - Overweight or obese people are more likely to have high cholesterol, a major factor in heart disease.
  • High Blood Pressure - Can often show no symptoms but puts strain on the cardiovascular system.
  • Diabetes - Over time this can damage the heart and blood vessels.
  • Age - Older people are more likely to be vulnerable to heart disease.
  • Physical activity - Lack of exercise can double the risk of heart attacks.

"No one wakes up in the morning and decided to be obese," said Dr Mike Knapton. "And quitting smoking is damn hard. But by knowing what puts you at risk, people can start to make choices and with a bit of help, can improve their outcomes and those of their families."