Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are among the leading causes of morbidity, disability and mortality in Italy. They are largely preventable since, alongside non-controllable risk factors, as age, sex and family history, several risk factors for CVD associated with unhealthy lifestyles can instead be modified, namely smoking, alcohol intake, poor diet and physical inactivity. These behaviours can often lead to diabetes, obesity, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, each of which can independently give rise to CVD.
The presence of pre-existing medical conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, makes patients more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections, leading to poorer outcomes. Since the onset of the pandemic, the elderly has proven to be the age group most affected in Italy, with the highest number of victims. This is because many of them present pre-existing chronic illnesses, the most common being cardiovascular conditions (56%) i.e. heart disease, stroke and cerebral ischaemia, followed by diabetes (30%), renal failure (20%), chronic respiratory diseases (19%), and tumours (16%). Chronic liver diseases are less frequent. High arterial blood pressure is reported in 68% of clinical records and obesity in 11%.
The current epidemiological setting once again demonstrates that health promotion interventions to counter modifiable risk factors and identify non-transmissible conditions in the early stages are paramount to safeguarding public health. By identifying persons with high blood pressure, high blood sugar and/or high blood cholesterol levels of which they are unaware and by fostering changes in lifestyle, cardiovascular screening not only reduces mortality and morbidity from cardiovascular events, but also helps to reduce the risk of negative developments in persons testing positive for COVID-19. Furthermore, the literature on SARS-CoV-2 suggests that cigarette smoking in particular appears to be associated with a more severe clinical picture of the disease, with some studies reporting that smokers frequently present with more severe symptoms at hospital admission compared to non-smokers, and are more likely to require intensive therapy and mechanical ventilation. Accordingly, the need to promote smoking cessation as part of said interventions becomes all the more urgent.