Fewer people are dying from it but more Britons than ever before are living with coronary heart disease, the British Heart Foundation said in a report published on Friday.
Nearly three million people are living with the disease, an increase of five percent from 1989. A million others have blocked arteries and do not know it.
“These statistics contain good and bad news,” Professor Jeremy Pearson, assistant medical director of the foundation, said in an interview.
“The good news is that fewer people are dying prematurely of cardiovascular disease. Many more who have a heart attack are being treated promptly with drugs or by surgery,” he added.
But one person every two minutes in Britain suffers a heart attack, which amounts to 270,000 every year.
“If you treat a heart attack, it is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted because a heart attack is what you physically notice of a disease process that started early in life,” Pearson added.
Deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) have fallen in the past decade but Britain still has one of the highest rates in Europe, according to the report.
Nearly 117,500 people died of the illness in 2002, compared to 121,000 the previous year, according to the report. Only Finland and Ireland have higher death rates. A working-age man in Britain is more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than a man in Italy.
Deaths from CHD between 1991 and 2001 fell 40 percent in men aged 35-44 and by 47 percent in men aged 55-64. In women aged 55-64 the decrease was 53 percent and 33 percent in younger females.
But the number of people living with CHD is about 30,000 higher than last year’s estimates because any improvements are being undermined by a lack of exercise and a poor diet, which has fueled an obesity epidemic. Obesity is a risk fact for CHD.
In a decade, the number of obese adults has risen from 14 to 22 percent of the population, giving Britain one of the fastest growing rate of obesity apart from Kuwait and Samoa.
“Most heart disease is avoidable if we take simple measures to improve our lifestyle. Too many people in the UK are exercising too little, eating diets too high in fat, salt and sugar, and consequently becoming overweight or obese,” said Professor Charles George, the foundation’s medical director.
“This trend has real and worrying implications for the future rates of CHD in the UK and for the freedom of future generations to live long and health lives,” he added in a statement.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.