17.9 million lives lost each year. The cause: none other than cardiovascular disease (CVDs). It is the World Health Organization that reports this official figure: it accounts for 32% of global deaths. Of these, 85% are caused by heart attacks and stroke[1]. It doesn’t take much more data to consider cardiovascular disease a serious issue, as well as a widespread burden that falls on the entire European Union. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue as COVID infection can lead to complications such as arrhythmia or heart failure. COVID is, individually, considered as a risk factor for ischemic stroke and myocardial infarction, as well as causing symptoms that persist months after COVID infection.

One of the problematics the pandemic has brough to surface the most, regards access to care and the barriers that have prevented patients from accessing consistent and routine medical support. This eventually led to a reduction in hospital admissions for myocardial infarction and consequently an increase in the negative effects produced by not having access to care in time.

According to the European Society of Cardiology, the actions aimed at contrasting the damage caused by COVID on cardiovascular diseases are various, and among these we can indicate Europe-wide health data collection in order to produce a Europe-wide analysis of the results of the pandemic, as well as continued safe treatment for patients with cardiovascular disease during the pandemic and randomized clinical trials to find a cure for all those patients who have contracted COVID during the pandemic.

The World Heart Federation, on the other hand, proposes the mobilization of digital and telehealth tools in cardiology. The adoption of digital tools such as telehealth and medical consultations could be a way to continue a work now more necessary than ever to constantly monitor and treat these diseases. Consider, for example, how the use of wearable devices could make the detection of irregularities and arrhythmias increasingly accurate and effective, improving patient care and monitoring.

It is necessary, among the measures aimed at combating cardiovascular diseases, to consider actions that aim at decreasing the incidence of risk factors for CVDs. Reducing risk factors is, according to WHO, a crucial action: it would prevent 80% of premature heart disease. The main areas of intervention are unhealthy habits such as tobacco use, diet, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse. A diet richer in fruits and vegetables is actually shown to be preferable and healthy; a French system called Nutri-Score based on a five-color scale indicates the overall nutritional quality of packaged foods[2]. It was developed to make it easier for consumers to understand nutritional information and thus help them make informed choices at the time of purchase.

All of these measures are necessary, but not sufficient. Structural inequalities based on gender and socioeconomic background, as well as those based on race or ethnicity, must also be considered. Addressing these inequalities is equally critical, as is conducting and promoting studies and data collection based on different backgrounds, so that specific health measures are identified as needed.  As indicated by the Lancet Regional Health[3], the gains resulting from the reduction of cardiovascular disease are not only in terms of health, but also economic: it is estimated at 210 billion euros per year the burden that the EU bears due to health costs and productivity loss of its workforce. The actions to prevent, monitor and contrast cardiovascular diseases are today, more than ever, necessary and urgent.

[1] World Health Organization, 2021. See: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds)

[2] Santé Publique France, 2021. See: https://www.santepubliquefrance.fr/determinants-de-sante/nutrition-et-activite-physique/articles/nutri-score

[3] Pandemic heightens the need to combat cardiovascular diseases, The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, Volume 8, 2021, 100217, ISSN 2666-7762, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lanepe.2021.100217.