With Europe’s ageing population comes several social, economic and environmental benefits. It also brings rising risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD) which must be managed to protect citizens’ wellbeing and the sustainability of our health systems.
That is why we are inspired to see 15 European and international health organisations joining forces to form the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health. Their shared goal is to call on the European Union to set out an ambitious plan of action to tackle the burden of CVD.
There is no time to lose. CVD is the leading cause of death in Europe, affecting millions of lives every day. This group of conditions includes heart attacks and strokes, heart failure as well as arrhythmias and congenital heart disease – all of which can have a profound impact on quality of life.
So, what do we need to do together to ensure that Europe takes the right actions today to reduce the burden on individuals and society in the future?
The vital role of secondary prevention
Along with better care and rehabilitation, one of the key messages emerging from the launch of the Alliance is on prevention. This includes secondary prevention to reduce the risk of having a second cardiac event and to manage the health of CVD patients.
This struck a chord with us given our work on heart failure. The human heart is like a pump. Its task is to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all cells in the body, as well as removing waste via the bloodstream. Heart failure occurs when the heart’s pumping capacity is reduced, and it can no longer deliver enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
This life-threatening disease affects millions of patients for whom the outlook is often poor. It is associated with hospitalisation and early death. For those living with heart failure, the condition takes on their daily lives.
Accurate and timely diagnosis of heart failure is the key to prompt and correct treatment. Misdiagnosis is a major issue in the management of heart failure. Diagnosis also a vital piece of the puzzle in secondary prevention.
Tell-tale warning signs
The good news is that science is on our side and has delivered a series of advances in how heart failure is detected. New biomarkers – blood tests which check for key signs of illness – are adding to physicians’ arsenal in fighting the disease.
So why can heart failure be tricky to diagnose? Patients with heart failure can present with a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath. Of course, we all know that breathing difficulties may result from any of several conditions ranging from long-term respiratory illness to short-term infections, including COVID-19.
That’s where biomarkers come in. And, along with diagnosis, they can also be used to monitor heart failure over time and identify which patients are at high risk of deteriorating.
This is just one of many examples where new technologies and tools are bringing fresh potential to improve how we care for people at risk of CVD. It is also a reminder that this group of diseases cannot be considered in isolation. Heart failure can be caused by damage to the heart following heart attack or cardiomyopathy which affects heart muscle.
We need a joined-up strategy that raises awareness of CVD, improves care, enhances prevention, and ensures that proven technologies and treatments are available to people across Europe.
The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health is ready to speak with one voice on this vital issue. Now is the time for policymakers to listen and play their part.