90% of heart patients in Northern Ireland have other conditions
Heart disease patients with other serious illnesses represent a "grave challenge" to the health service, a leading charity has warned.
The British Heart Foundation NI said that of the 75,000 coronary heart disease patients in Northern Ireland, nine out of 10 had other lifelong issues which increased their risk of dying.
This heaps pressure on a health service geared towards treating individual illnesses, it said.
The figures released by the charity show more than half (41,328) suffer from high blood pressure, while a quarter (18,808) have diabetes.
Nearly one in five (12,618) also lives with dementia and/or stroke, while around 10,000 are affected by stroke, 9,000 with heart failure and over 3,600 with dementia.
Alison Lilley (52) from Comber lives with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm and major cause of stroke. She said she had a "massive shock" when she was diagnosed four years ago.
"I didn't once imagine I had a problem with my heart," she said.
She's since had four procedures to restore her normal heart rhythm as well as having a pacemaker fitted in February.
"I felt very low after because I knew my life would never be the same," she explained.
"I am fatigued very easily and the atrial fibrillation can make me very tired, breathless and dizzy.
"It is shocking to hear that so many people are also living with different conditions on top of their heart condition like me."
Karen McCammon from BHF NI said that while huge progress had been made in survival rates for individual conditions, the new figures pointed to "an emerging and very urgent challenge".
She said more research was urgently needed into treating multiple conditions together.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the BHF, said: "More research is needed to understand the underlying reasons for the connections between different conditions, and why the number of people living with multiple diseases is rising at such speed.
"While factors like an ageing population and the increasing number of people with conditions like diabetes is contributing, they don't fully explain the trends we're seeing.
"It is critically important that we find innovative ways to tackle multi-morbidity, and not just focus on individual illnesses. Research is vital if we are to improve lives and create a more sustainable future for the NHS."