Encouraging more people to use aspirin and other low-cost medicines would reduce the toll from heart disease and stroke, the leading cause of death worldwide, researchers said.
A seven-year study of more than 150,000 people found that about 60 percent of those with heart disease may not be taking any of the four effective drug types, according to research presented yesterday at the European Society of Cardiology’s conference in Paris. Use of the treatments was low even in countries with well-developed health systems, according to researchers led by Salim Yusuf of the Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Canada.
“Efforts to increase the use of effective and inexpensive drugs for prevention of cardiovascular disease are urgently needed, and would substantially reduce disease burden within a few years,” researchers wrote in the study published in The Lancet.
Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer and may cause 23.6 million deaths annually by 2030, up from 17.1 million in 2004, according to the Geneva-based WHO. More than 80 percent of deaths occur in lower and middle-income countries, where people have less access to health services and are more exposed to risks such as poor diets, according to WHO.
Researchers looked at anti--platelet drugs such as aspirin, which reduce blood clots, -cholesterol-lowering statins and two types of treatments that lower blood pressure, so-called beta blockers and angiotensin receptor blockers. Participants in 628 rural and urban communities across five continents completed standardized questionnaires by telephone interviews, visits to their homes or when they went to a clinic.
The study “provides a stark and alarming message,” Anthony Heagerty, a cardiologist from the University of Manchester in England, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
“The implication is that a fresh approach to secondary prevention is needed, especially in high--income countries,” he wrote.
Canada, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates were the three high-income countries considered. -Middle-income nations included Brazil, Poland, Turkey, China and South Africa. The poorer countries were India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
The study, the largest of its kind to date, according to The Lancet, showed that only a quarter of people suffering from cardiovascular disease used aspirin and other anti-platelet drugs. Use of the other three drug types was even lower, according to the researchers. In low-income countries, less than 10 percent of patients used the drugs.
Governments need to educate doctors and patients about the drugs and work with industry to make sure they are available, Heagerty wrote.
“Strong action is needed,” he said. “An epidemic of cardiovascular disease is just beginning in many countries that are ill-prepared for what is to come.”