Socioeconomically deprived most affected by soaring heart failure rates in UK

Despite increased prevention efforts and longer lifespans, heart failure rates are at a high in the United Kingdom and are continuing to climb, according to new research published in The Lancet.

Researchers at the University of Oxford led a nationwide effort to evaluate the state of heart failure in the U.K., according to a release from the university, and were surprised to find the total number of new heart failure cases between 2002 and 2014 grew by 12 percent.

“Heart failure is a cruel and debilitating illness affecting nearly a million people across the U.K., with sufferers in severe cases often having poorer survival rates than many cancers,” British Heart Foundation Associate Medical Director Jeremy Pearson, PhD, said in the release.

He’s right, according to the research—there are now more new cases of heart failure in the country each year than of the four most common cancers, including lung, breast, bowel and prostate.

The jump in the number of heart failure cases is likely a direct result of more older adults living in the U.K., the release stated. This demographic change is something the study’s authors predict will be mirrored in other high-income countries over time.

Still, the affluent are not the biggest targets for rate reductions. During the course of their research, lead author Nathalie Conrad and colleagues found socioeconomically deprived populations were around 60 percent more likely to be affected by heart failure than those who are well-off financially.

“These socioeconomic disparities in the incidence of heart failure and age at onset within the same country highlight a preventable nature of the disease, and suggest we still have a lot of work to do to tackle it,” she said in the release. “If we could achieve the incidence rates we see among the most affluent groups for the population as a whole, we would see a fall of about one-fifth in the number of new cases every year.”

Patients living in the poorest neighborhoods in the U.K. are likely affected by heart failure three and a half years earlier than individuals living in the wealthiest corners of the country, the authors wrote.

Conrad et al. also saw rises in the rates of comorbidities affecting heart failure patients; the proportion of individuals suffering from three or more additional conditions leapt from 68 percent in 2002 to 87 percent in 2014.

“Currently, heart failure is incurable and difficult to treat, and the number of people living with it is increasing,” Pearson said. “This study highlights the urgent need for more to be done to end the postcode lottery in heart failure incidence.”