Towards a national plan for cardiovascular diseases, one of the principal causes of death in Belgium

Every year, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for one third of deaths (31 000 deaths a year) in Belgium and are the country's principal cause of mortality. At present almost 754 000 Belgians suffer from a cardiovascular disease. Faced with this genuine public health challenge, the Brussels University Hospital (H.U.B.), a grouping of the Erasmus Hospital, the Jules Bordet Institute and the Queen Fabiola University Children's Hospital, is proposing action to combat cardiovascular disease through a national plan for the prevention of these diseases. 

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One third of deaths in Belgium are due to cardiovascular disease

The leading cause of mortality in Belgium, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for one third of deaths in the country, at the rate of approximately 31 000 deaths a year. Cardiovascular diseases are a heterogeneous group of diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels. Most cardiovascular diseases are the result of a build-up of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls, known as atheromatosis.   Of around 754 000 persons affected by atheromatosis in Belgium, an estimated 400 000 present an ischemic cardiac disease  (angina pectoris, heart attack or sudden death). Approximately 100 000 present a cerebrovascular disease (stroke,  transient ischemic attack or cognitive decline) caused by insufficient blood supply to the brain. Finally, 240 000 persons will show a peripheral arterial disease (narrowing of the arteries in the lower limbs giving rise to pain in the legs during effort or necrosis). 

Harnessing support for a national plan

Given the large number of Belgians affected by these diseases, prevention and treatment adapted to the risk factors for cardiovascular disease represent a major public health challenge.  It is this that prompted Professor Antoine Bondue, President of the Scientific Committee of the Belgian Cardiological League, and Professor Philippe Van de Borne, President of the Working Group on Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Belgian Society of Cardiology - both cardiologists at the Erasmus Hospital - to propose a national plan for cardiovascular diseases at the information session organised at the Chamber of Representatives on 20 October last year.  Like the European cancer plan launched in 2008, the cardiologists believe in prioritising resources for combatting and preventing these diseases. This to include treatment education and prevention missions as well as access and improvements to existing multidisciplinary care. Increasing awareness among the general population of the various risk factors by organising effective screening campaigns in the face of the lack of information and official data remains the principal objective of the doctors. 

Preventing cardiovascular diseases is possible

The probability of being affected by a cardiovascular disease increases with age, with an acceleration after the age of 50 among men and after the age of 60 among women. This is why there is a need to identify the risk factors, act accordingly (preferably before a cardiovascular disease develops) and detect any damage to the arteries at an early stage. The earlier the diagnosis the more effective the treatment. Some risks are easy to avoid, such as not smoking, maintaining a balanced diet, taking regular physical exercise and not consuming alcohol to excess. However, there are other factors over which we exercise less control, such as a tendency to high blood pressure or high cholesterol or sugar (diabetes) levels in the blood. A number of other "non-avoidable" factors are also relevant: sex (pre-menopausal women being relatively protected against cardiovascular disease), hormonal determinants, genetic predispositions, family antecedents, ageing or the presence of a chronic kidney disease.   

As a university, cancer and paediatric hospital, the H.U.B. offers personalised care of cardiovascular diseases adapted to individual needs. To ensure effective global treatment, a multidisciplinary team of experts is available.  This consists of cardiologists, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, obesity specialists, geneticists and paediatricians.   In bringing together the Erasmus Hospital, the Jules Bordet Institute and the Children's Hospital, each of them reference hospitals in their own right, the H.U.B is recognised as a centre of expertise for cardiovascular and paediatric cardiology care in Brussels.