Cardiovascular disease still the No. 1 cause of death in the world

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the world’s leading cause of death, according to a new report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.[1] High blood pressure, high cholesterol, unhealthy diets and air pollution were cited as the biggest factors responsible for CVD.

The report, “The Global Burden of Cardiovascular Diseases and Risk: A Compass for Future Health,” represents a collaboration between the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Data was gathered from 204 different countries and territories.

“We need to keep shining a light on the current state of cardiovascular health across the globe,” senior author Gregory A. Roth, MD, an associate professor in the division of cardiology at the University of Washington and director of IHME’s program in cardiovascular health metrics, said in a prepared statement. “Cardiovascular health has a major impact on our quality of life and the healthcare system as a whole. Over 80% of CVD is preventable. With this update, we are measuring some alarming global trends and reviewing the current interventions that can help countries make good, evidence-based choices for their health systems.”

These are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Ischemic heart disease is the No. 1 cause of cardiovascular death in the world. It was linked to 9.44 million deaths in 2021 alone.
  • High systolic blood pressure is considered the “leading modifiable risk factor for premature cardiovascular deaths.”
  • Unhealthy diets—which including not eating enough of certain foods and eating too much of others—were connected to a total of 8 million deaths in 2021, including 6.58 million cardiovascular deaths. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk, fiber and calcium were listed as some of the foods people are not eating enough of on a regular basis. Red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium were listed as some of the foods people are eating too much of on a regular basis.

The report also examined the “profound” impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on health all over the world.

“COVID-19 may trigger acute cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarctions or strokes, and the longer-term cardiovascular health implications of COVID-19 infection are increasingly recognized,” the authors wrote. “Cardiovascular hospitalizations temporarily declined early during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to public lockdowns and physical distancing measures, raising concerns regarding missed acute cardiovascular pathologies, and chronic disease management and preventative care may have been delayed or deferred. COVID-19 has magnified preexisting disparities in the delivery of healthcare for diverse populations. Collectively, these direct and indirect health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to increased population-level CVD burden in some locations.”

Michael Walter
Michael Walter, Managing Editor

Michael has more than 16 years of experience as a professional writer and editor. He has written at length about cardiology, radiology, artificial intelligence and other key healthcare topics.

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