Take heart! It’s safe – and important - to seek help and care for cardiovascular disease during COVID-19
Stefan Schreck, Head of Unit of Health promotion, disease prevention, financial instruments, talks to us ahead of World Heart Day on 29 September. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of premature death around the world.
How has COVID-19 impacted the field of cardiovascular disease?
The pandemic has highlighted many issues and put our health systems under stress. The pandemic also posed additional challenges to people living with pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, as these patients are at greater risk of developing a serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19.
In addition, the current situation resulted in many patients, including heart patients, avoiding hospitals and doctors out of fear of contracting the virus. Many patients have missed or postponed their regular appointments, screenings, follow-ups and even scheduled surgeries.
The pandemic also made it harder for some people to be physically active, whether because they were truly confined during lock-down or had reduced access to places where they could walk, run or do sports. The stress caused by the pandemic can also impact heart health, and it can lead people to smoke, stress-eat, drink too much and otherwise make poor choices.
Do you have any advice for cardiovascular disease patients during COVID-19?
Patients should be aware that the risks of heart attacks and stroke far outweigh the risks of contracting COVID-19. It is essential to seek medical help immediately if you experience any signs of cardiovascular trouble. Patients and people in general, need to know that it is safe for them to go to a hospital or to see a doctor, and that it is important to keep regularly scheduled appointments and check-ups.
What has the European Commission been doing in the field of cardiovascular disease?
Many of the risk factors of cardiovascular disease are risk factors for other non-communicable diseases. For this reason, the EU approaches the challenge that non-communicable diseases pose to EU citizens, through an integrated response focusing on prevention across sectors and policy fields, combined with efforts to strengthen health systems.
The European Commission is committed to supporting EU countries in their efforts to reach the nine voluntary targets of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation by 2025, as well as Sustainable Development Goal 3.4, which aims to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one third, and promote mental health and well-being by 2030.
In order to address these challenges, and help Member States reach these goals, the Commission has set up a Steering Group on Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Management of Non-Communicable Diseases (the Steering Group). The Steering Group supports Member States by fostering exchanges of relevant experience, policies and practices.
Why is the European Commission so focused on non-communicable diseases?
Non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer represent major causes of disability, ill-health, health-related retirement, and premature death in the EU, resulting in considerable social and economic costs. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, approximately 550,000 people of working age die prematurely every year in the EU from non-communicable diseases. As the leading cause of mortality in the EU, they account for most healthcare expenses, costing EU economies €115 billion annually. Those are rather dire numbers, but there is one calculation that gives us a lot of hope and drives our work, and that is that up to 80% of non-communicable diseases can be prevented through healthy lifestyle practices.
Activities at EU level
European Commission – Health and Food Safety
European Commission – Health and Food Safety
European Commission – Research and Innovation
The group presented initial survey results of national public health priorities in Member States, undertaken in order to identify top priorities for population-level health interventions and best practices for 2021-22. The prevention of non-communicable diseases is planned to be one of these priorities.
The conference, organised by the Commission’s Consumers, Health, Environmental, Agriculture and Food Agency, was hosted on the Health Policy Platform. Registered users can find the summary and the more information on the platform.
People with cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, including hypertension and diabetes, are more vulnerable to severe forms of coronavirus. Join this year’s global awareness and action campaign and help reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the EU. Eurostat provides statistics on the number of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in the EU and in the Member States, the incidence of cardiovascular disease by gender and age and other relevant data and analysis.
Governments have endorsed the WHO’s nine global voluntary targets with the overarching aim to reduce premature death from the four major non-communicable diseases by 25% by 2025. This is feasible through high-level political commitment, whole-of-government action, and support and engagement from everyone.
Health Programme Projects
The EU-funded YOUNG 50 project aims to help modify or reduce risk factors among healthy subjects in the 50-year old age range, promote interventions to change unhealthy lifestyles and increase knowledge and perceptions of cardiovascular disease risks among the general population.