The number of people dying of heart and circulatory diseases before the age of 75 has risen for the first time in 50 years, according to figures from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The charity found that 42,384 under-75s died from conditions including heart attack and stroke in 2017, compared with 41,042 in 2014. There was also an increase in the heart and circulatory disease mortality rate among under-65s: 18,668 people died in 2017, a 4% increase on the 17,982 deaths seen five years’ earlier.
Since the 1960s, changing lifestyles and advancements in treatment has seen the number of deaths from such conditions fall by half. But the slight increase in the mortality rate in 2017 indicates that progress is slowing down.
Between 2012 and 2017, the premature death rate for heart and circulatory diseases in the UK fell by just 9%, compared to a fall of 25% in the five years before. BHF said this was partly because of a significant slowdown in the rate of improvement in death rates per 100,000 people, combined with a growing population.
Another contributing factor is that deaths in people aged under 75, as a proportion of all heart and circulatory disease deaths, are on the rise – 28% of those who died from these conditions in 2017 were under 75 (26% in 2012), while 12.2% were under 65 (11.2% in 2012).
BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said the charity was deeply concerned by the apparent slowdown in progress.
“In the UK we’ve made phenomenal progress in reducing the number of people who die of a heart attack or stroke. But we’re seeing more people die each year from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK before they reach their 75th, or even 65th, birthday,” he said.
“Heart and circulatory diseases remain a leading cause of death in the UK, with millions at risk because of conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. We need to work in partnership with governments, the NHS and medical research community to increase research investment and accelerate innovative approaches to diagnose and support the millions of people at risk of a heart attack or stroke.”
By 2030 the charity wants to see better survival rates from heart disease, new and better treatments for circulatory diseases and better methods to identify people at risk of such conditions. It has set a target of increasing the heart attack survival rate to 90% by this time.
Separate BHF research from last year predicted the number of people with diabetes suffering heart attacks and strokes will likely rise by 29% by 2035, unless the rate of diabetes diagnoses does not slow down.
Another study published earlier this year suggested that shift work has a harmful effect on cardiovascular function, potentially due to the prevalence of “unhealthy” lifestyle choices such as smoking and poor diet among shift workers, as well as biological factors like disturbances to circadian rhythms.