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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is now the most common cause of death worldwide. Before 1900, infectious diseases and malnutrition were the most common causes, and CVD was responsible for less than 10% of all deaths. In 2010, CVD accounted for approximately 16 million deaths worldwide (30%), including nearly 40% of deaths in high-income countries and about 28% in low- and middle-income countries.


image The global rise in CVD is the result of an unprecedented transformation in the causes of morbidity and mortality during the twentieth century. Known as the epidemiologic transition, this shift is driven by industrialization, urbanization, and associated lifestyle changes and is taking place in every part of the world among all races, ethnic groups, and cultures. The transition is divided into four basic stages: pestilence and famine, receding pandemics, degenerative and man-made diseases, and delayed degenerative diseases. A fifth stage, characterized by an epidemic of inactivity and obesity, is emerging in some countries (Table 266e-1).

The age of pestilence and famine is marked by malnutrition, infectious diseases, and high infant and child mortality that are offset by high fertility. Tuberculosis, dysentery, cholera, and influenza are often fatal, resulting in a mean life expectancy of about 30 years. CVD, which accounts for less than 10% of deaths, takes the form of rheumatic heart disease and cardiomyopathies due to infection and malnutrition. Approximately 10% of the world’s population remains in the age of pestilence and famine.

Per capita income and life expectancy increase during the age of receding pandemics as the emergence of public health systems, cleaner water supplies, and improved nutrition combine to drive down deaths from infectious disease and malnutrition. Infant and childhood mortality also decline, but deaths due to CVD increase to between 10 and 35% of all deaths. Rheumatic valvular disease, hypertension, coronary heart disease (CHD), and stroke are the predominant forms of CVD. Almost 40% of the world’s population is currently in this stage.

The age of degenerative and man-made diseases is distinguished by mortality from noncommunicable diseases—primarily CVD—surpassing mortality from malnutrition and infectious diseases. Caloric intake, particularly from animal fat, increases. CHD and stroke are prevalent, and between 35 and 65% of all deaths can be traced to CVD. Typically, the rate of CHD deaths exceeds that of stroke by a ratio of 2:1 to 3:1. During this period, average life expectancy surpasses the age of 50. Roughly 35% of the world’s population falls into this category.

In the age of delayed degenerative diseases, CVD and cancer remain the major causes of morbidity and mortality, with CVD accounting for 40% of all deaths. However, age-adjusted CVD mortality declines, aided by preventive strategies (for example, smoking cessation programs and effective blood pressure control), acute hospital management, and technologic advances, such as the availability of bypass surgery. CHD, stroke, and congestive ...

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