EU heart deaths 'halved since 1980s'

Heart monitoring
Image caption About one in five men and one in eight women die from coronary heart disease in the UK

Death rates from coronary heart disease have more than halved in almost all EU countries since the early 1980s, according to research.

Most countries have seen steady reductions in deaths in both men and women of all ages, despite rises in obesity and diabetes, a UK study shows.

However, experts have warned against complacency, saying wide disparities remain across Europe.

Coronary heart disease is the UK's single biggest killer.

About one in five men and one in eight women die from the disease.

Risk factors

A new study, published in the European Heart Journal, looked at deaths from the condition between 1980 and 2009 in men and women across four age groups - under-45, 45-54, 55-64, and 65 and over.

Overall there was a steady decline in mortality when all ages were considered together, a team from the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at the University of Oxford found.

However, there was significant variation between individual countries, with a levelling off or increase in heart disease deaths among some age groups.

Rising risk factors such as diabetes and obesity, and increased smoking in some countries, could still have an impact on heart disease deaths in years to come, the researchers warn.

Study leader Dr Melanie Nichols said: "It is clear that there are some countries in which trends are cause for concern, where overall rates of decrease in coronary heart disease mortality do appear to have slowed, and a small number of countries in which CHD [Coronary heart disease] mortality rates have begun to increase significantly in recent years or decades in younger subpopulations.

"In addition, we should emphasise that cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in Europe, and it is important that we continue to focus efforts on primary prevention, including reducing smoking, improving diets and physical activity levels."

Denmark, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, had the largest decreases in mortality in both sexes over the past three decades.

'Too many'

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said while the picture of heart disease mortality may be improving "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," he added.

"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."

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