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Belfast people three times more likely to die from heart disease than residents of Hampshire

By Victoria O'Hara

A person living in Belfast is three times more likely to die prematurely from cardiovascular disease (CVD) than someone living in Hampshire, according to new statistics.

The figures revealed today by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) show the clear inequalities in survival rates from heart attacks and strokes across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

And a further breakdown across the hundreds of council areas show that people living in Belfast are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as those living in North Down.

Bad lifestyle choices including poor diet and smoking are behind the reasons for Belfast having the stark figures, according to the BHF.

The research also showed that;

  • 35% more people suffer a heart attack or stroke than was previously estimated in Northern Ireland, with the annual figure reaching more than 7,500.
  • In total, more than 90 people under the age of 75 die from CVD each month in Northern Ireland – the equivalent of 1,080 people a year.
  • More than 225,000 people are living with CVD across Northern Ireland and it accounts for more than one in four of all NI deaths.
  • Nationally Belfast was ranked the 19th worst 'hotspot' to die from stroke or heart attack out of 406 local authorities.
  • It showed there were 107 deaths under 75 per 100,000 in Belfast. This compared to 34.9 per 100,000 in Hampshire.

The figures were published as the charity launched a new strategy to fight heart and circulatory disease to tackle the "unacceptable" divide in heart health.

Despite survival rates improving rapidly over the past 50 years for people who have CVD, the charity says more must be done.

Areas including Inverclyde, Dundee, Manchester and Blackpool are also pinpointed for high rates of early deaths.

The reason behind Belfast being among the top 20 areas across the UK for fatal heart attacks is poor lifestyle, consisting of obesity levels and smoking.

Jayne Murray, spokeswoman for BHF in Northern Ireland, explained: "Health inequalities play the major role. It is the lifestyle factors – smoking, obesity levels and deprivation.

"Even if you look within Belfast you will find pockets within the most deprived areas that would suffer most.

"You are twice as likely to die in Belfast from cardiovascular disease as you are if you live in North Down."

Ms Murray said despite survival rates improving vastly over the past 50 years, more needs to be done.

"Our new strategy is aimed at taking scientific findings from the lab to the bedside as quickly as possible."

The BHF's strategy offers a new focus on reducing the time it takes to turn research discoveries into life-saving medical treatments for patients.

BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said: "These figures are a stark reminder of the unacceptable number of people that lose their lives to cardiovascular disease every year, often increased by the place they live.

"With the help of our supporters, we'll increase investment and accelerate our world-class research that could save the lives of more people that die prematurely."

Case study

Christine Harpur, from Whitehead, is one of the many thousands of heart attack survivors in Northern Ireland. In 2012 over four days, Christine (68) experienced intermittent chest pains which she thought was everything from trapped wind to indigestion. By the fourth day, her husband suggested she visit the doctor. She says:

“I was shocked when my GP suggested that I needed more tests. I didn’t look like or feel like someone who was having a heart attack.

“I was fit and healthy. My experience was nothing like what I would see on TV. It wasn’t dramatic and I hadn’t collapsed.

“In fact, after my GP appointment I returned to work and went to A&E later that day where I was admitted and informed that I had had a heart attack and I needed a stent fitted immediately.

“After my surgery, I was determined to get back to my normal busy life.

“I was lucky as I was able to have cardiac rehabilitation and the BHF nurses were really helpful, giving me the support and advice I needed.

“Having always exercised I now have a different exercise programme at the gym — a specially tailored and monitored cardio programme which I do three to four times a week.

“I’m keen to help support BHF Northern Ireland, volunteering my time to help raise awareness, especially about heart attack signs and symptoms, as well as helping the charity achieve its new strategy locally.”

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