Data and statistics

The challenge of cardiovascular disease - quick statistics

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than half of all deaths across the European Region.
  • CVD causes 46 times the number of deaths and 11 times the disease burden caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined in Europe.
  • 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable.

Contributing factors

A person’s genetic make-up is likely to be important in the probability of developing certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

The foundations of adult health are laid in early life, even before birth, and a good start in life is fundamental to later development. Young mothers, poor mothers and those of low educational achievement are more likely to produce a low-birth-weight baby and less likely to breastfeed; in turn, low birth weight is associated with increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Good health-related habits, such as eating sensibly, exercising and not smoking, are learnt early in life and associated with parental and peer group examples.

Socioeconomic group

Research has shown that males between 20 and 64 years of age in semi- and unskilled manual occupations run a three times higher risk of premature death from CVD compared to those in professional and managerial positions. Moreover, when improvements to health do occur, the benefits are unevenly distributed within society. These conditions and their causes contribute to differences in healthy life expectancy between and within European countries.

Mental health

Harmful stress is associated with cardiovascular diseases, and the prevalence of depression is a predictor of poor life expectancy among those who suffer from cardiovascular diseases.


A high intake of salt leads to hypertension. Most Europeans’ daily intake of sodium exceeds the WHO recommended limit, and in an important number of Member States the main source of sodium in the diet is processed foods. According to the WHO Global Health Report 2010, convincing evidence suggests that saturated fat and trans-fat increase the risk of coronary heart disease and that replacement with monosaturated and polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk.

Overweight and obesity

Obese adults are especially likely to develop cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. Obesity is associated with some of the major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension and low concentrations of HDL cholesterol.


Participation in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week (or equivalent) is estimated to reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease by approximately 30%, as well as reducing the risk of stroke and hypertension.


Smoking is estimated to cause about 10% of cardiovascular disease worldwide. Of the six WHO regions, the highest overall prevalence for smoking in 2008 was estimated to be in the European Region, at nearly 29%.


There is a direct relationship between higher levels of alcohol consumption and rising risk of cardiovascular diseases. The relationship is complex, however, and depends on both the amount and the pattern of alcohol consumption. Of the six WHO regions, adult per capita consumption of alcohol in 2008 was highest in the European Region (at 12.2 litres).


Diabetes is a major risk factor and trigger for cardiovascular disease.

Globalization and urbanization

Globalization and urbanization are associated with the trend for populations to consume unhealthy diets high in energy, saturated fats, salt and sugar, and become less physically active. This trend started in western Europe and is now seen in parts of eastern Europe. This has serious implications for obesity levels, particularly among children.


Focusing on a combination of risk factors for cardiovascular disease at once, implementing medical screening for individuals at risk and then providing effective and affordable treatment to those who require it can prevent disability and death and improve quality of life.

It has been predicted that mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in the United Kingdom could be halved by small changes in cardiovascular risk factors: a 1% decrease in cholesterol in the population could lead to a 2–4% CHD mortality reduction; a 1% reduction in smoking prevalence could lead to 2000 fewer CHD deaths per year; and a 1% reduction in population diastolic blood pressure could prevent around 1500 CHD deaths each year.

80% of the reduction in CHD mortality in Finland during the period of 1972–1992 has been explained by a decline in the major risk factors. Similarly, in Ireland, almost half (48.1%) of the reduction in CHD mortality rates during 1985–2000 among those aged 25–84 years has been attributed to favourable trends in population risk factors. In both countries, the greatest benefits appear to have come from reductions in mean cholesterol concentrations, smoking prevalence and blood pressure levels.


Effective measures are available for people at high risk. For example, combination drug therapy (such as aspirin, beta blocker, diuretic and statin) can lead to a 75% reduction in myocardial infarction (heart attack) among those at high risk of having one. But many such interventions are not being implemented, and about half of coronary patients in Europe still require more intensive blood pressure management.