Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are front-runners when it comes to causes of death on a worldwide basis. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, ischaemic heart disease and stroke account for 23.6 percent of all deaths worldwide. Almost 13 percent die from ischaemic heart disease, while stroke and cerebrovascular disease claim the lives of another 10.8 percent annually. These numbers equate to more than 13 million deaths each year from these two conditions.
Heart disease and stroke share many of the same risk factors, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, smoking and a lack of physical activity. Both heart disease and stroke also share a similar root cause: reduced blood flow. It’s here that the similarities between heart disease and stroke diverge. With heart disease, blood flow is reduced to the heart muscle. On the other hand, stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases cause reduced blood flow to the brain. Both heart disease and stroke can result in permanent damage, disability and even premature death.
With so many people dying annually from heart disease and stroke-related illnesses, it’s important to understand the underlying causes so that appropriate interventions can be developed to prevent the development of these health issues. Knowing the causes can also reduce the risk of premature death, improve treatment options, improve overall health and improve quality of life. While heart disease and stroke remain the number one killers on a worldwide basis, they are not the main cause of death in each country.
According to results just released from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the leading cause of death on a country-by-country basis appears to be directly linked to national income. Using data obtained from the WHO’s Global Burden of Disease Project, which encompassed 192 countries, researchers found heart disease to be the leading cause of death in more affluent countries where there is high national income, such as the United States. However, researchers found just the opposite to be true for less affluent countries. In countries with a low national income, stroke was the leading cause of death and disability. Researchers obtained income-related data from the World Bank.
While heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States, stroke recently dropped to fourth place. Findings are similar for other high national income areas, such as Australia, Western Europe and the Middle East. However, in low national income countries, such as China, Africa, Asia and South America, stroke is the primary killer. The findings are significant because they can lead to more effective intervention programs specifically designed to meet the needs of the individual nations.
American Heart Association (2011, July 5). Poor countries have disproportionately higher burden of disease from stroke than from heart disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 10, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110705183626.htm
The Top 10 Causes of Death, World Health Organization, June 2011, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/index.html
University of California - San Francisco (2011, July 8). Heart disease and stroke worldwide tied to national income. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 11, 2011, from
Reviewed July 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Kate Kunkel