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Aug 10, 2011

Burden of Stroke and Ischemic Heart Disease Worldwide

Heart disease and stroke burden differ among countries.

Heart disease and stroke share many of the same risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. These risk factors are among the top causes of death worldwide, and cause disability in million of adults each year. However, stroke and heart disease do not affect all countries and populations equally, as some carry greater mortality and disability burden than others.

To explore the burden of stroke and heart disease worldwide, researchers from the University of California analyzed a wealth of data from the World Health Organization and World Bank. They found that among 192 World Health Organization countries, roughly one-third had significantly higher stroke mortality and disability rates than from heart disease. On the flip side, however, some countries had significantly higher rates of mortality and disability from heart disease than from stroke.

So what is the cause for differences in the burden of stroke and heart disease among various countries? Researchers found that income was a significant factor, with lower national income being associated with greater rates of stroke mortality and stroke burden, overall. For example, China, Africa and South America had disproportionately higher stroke burden, while the Middle East, North America, Australia and much of Europe were more greatly affected by heart disease. Further research is needed to identify causes for these differences in order to effectively address these important health concerns worldwide. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why are countries with higher national income affected more by heart disease than by stroke?
  • Study findings suggest that overweight or obesity, poor diet and a lack of exercise common in more developed countries may contribute to greater heart disease burden. Regardless of income, diabetes and high cholesterol were associated with greater heart disease burden. However, both conditions are very common in developed countries, often as a result of populations not following a heart-healthy lifestyle.
  • How can low-income countries help reduce their stroke burden?
  • As high blood pressure is the greatest risk factor for stroke, blood pressure must be effectively monitored and managed in countries affected disproportionately by stroke. Also, adults in these areas must better understand the warning signs of stroke and learn to seek immediate help at the first symptoms of stroke. Along with lifestyle changes, this can help to reduce stroke mortality and improve outcomes.

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