Since the 1960s we’ve made significant steps forward in treating heart and circulatory disease. For example, if you had a heart attack in the 1960s, you had a very poor chance of surviving.

Thanks to generous support for medical research funders, countless hours of laboratory research, and advances in technology, the majority of heart attack patients now survive.

With more people surviving heart attacks, death rates fell dramatically. But after decades of this steep downwards trend, progress is levelling off and we could be grinding towards a halt.

At the same time, we’re facing a worrying situation in which more people are living with heart and circulatory disease than ever before.

Heart and circulatory disease, or cardiovascular disease, is an umbrella term for conditions such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia.

 

Cardiovascular disease in the UK

 

Around seven million people in the UK are currently living with a cardiovascular disease, costing the NHS billions of pounds every year. And this is a number that is likely to rise with an ageing and growing population. Records show that the number of hospital visits for cardiovascular disease has reached the highest level for decades.

It is a myth that heart disease is a ‘man’s disease’ and only affects people in later life when their bad lifestyle habits start to catch up with them.

Heart disease doesn’t discriminate; it can affect anyone at any time. From the elderly living with heart failure, to children born with holes in their hearts, from athletes at the peak of fitness but have inherited faulty genes such as England cricketer James Taylor, to young mothers whose hearts are damaged during pregnancy.

With such a wide range of people affected there is so much more for us to learn and understand.

The ‘holy grail’ of heart research is finding a way to stop atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries - which leads to coronary heart disease. As you age, fat is gradually deposited in your arteries, which can block vital blood flow to your heart muscle. It’s a condition which eventually affects most people, some more than others depending on your lifestyle and genes.

While reducing or avoiding risk factors, such as smoking and poor diet, can delay the onset and impact of this condition we still have no way of preventing it. This is why we need to continue supporting medical research, to better understand the process and find a way to stop it.

Equally, we need to help more people lower their risk of heart disease.

 

Managing high blood pressure

 

Nearly 30 per cent of adults in the UK have high blood pressure – a cause of atherosclerosis - and those with high blood pressure are up to three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Yet up to half of those with the condition are not receiving treatment.

Initiatives such as World Heart Day can help raise awareness and encourage people to get their blood pressure checked. Research is also helping us to develop new treatments to manage blood pressure and reduce people’s risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke.

Health inequality also remains an ongoing issue as there are still differences in the risk of developing heart disease between genders, societies, ethnicities and countries. There are also gaps in standard of treatment as studies have shown that women are more likely to be incorrectly diagnosed compared with men.

Looking ahead there are opportunities for us to capitalise on our position in the UK as the world’s leading centre for cardiovascular research and discover new and better ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease.

But to make it happen we need investment in medical research, international collaboration with the very best scientists and support to help make tackling cardiovascular disease a priority again.