Cardiovascular disease is the most frequent cause of death in Austria. It includes diseases of the coronary vessels (with heart attack as the worst manifestation), diseases of the heart valves and of arrhythmias. Many of these illnesses can be treated early or even avoided entirely. "Risk factors should be identified as soon as possible and treated in good time so that serious heart disease does not occur at all or only much later," explains cardiologist Christian Hengstenberg from MedUni Vienna on World Heart Day on 29 September. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood lipids, diabetes mellitus and smoking. Hengstenberg recommends regular preventive medical check-ups.
In 2019, approximately 32,000 people died as a result of cardiovascular disease (45% for women and 35% for men), making cardiovascular disease the leading cause of death in Austria. These are primarily diseases of the coronary vessels, including myocardial infarction, or diseases of the heart valves and arrhythmias.
Diseases of the heart become significantly more frequent with increasing age and are on the rise in society, also because the population is getting older.
However, it is not merely a symptom of old age, explains Christian Hengstenberg, Head of the University Department of Internal Medicine II and its Clinical Department of Cardiology at MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital. Even though 60% of all premature deaths due to cardiovascular diseases occurred in people over the age of 65, cardiovascular diseases still accounted for well over 1 million sick days in 2019, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.
From the cardiologist’s point of view, the best possible cardiac care of the population is an absolute priority and a necessity: "On one hand, it is important to recognise and treat the various heart diseases. But it is also particularly important to treat risk factors in time so that heart disease does not occur at all or only much later." These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood lipids, diabetes mellitus and smoking. Although there are ample doctors in Austria including hospitals and cardiologists in private practice, it has recently been more difficult to get an appointment with a heart specialist due to the Corona pandemic.
Why it is important to look out for warning signs: "Sometimes signs of heart disease are seen as part of the ’normal’ ageing process. However, if a serious event such as a heart attack occurs, in retrospect it is sometimes very regrettable for us heart specialists. Particularly because we often have very good treatment options in cardiology."
Unrecognised and untreated heart disease usually also has a significant impact on mortality. Therefore, Hengstenberg advocates for timely recognition and treatment of risk factors and regular outpatient visits to cardiological facilities. "Similar to a colonoscopy, it is recommended to have regular cardiac checks beginning at the age of 50 to monitor your health as a preventive measure."