How does heart disease affect our health?

Cardiovascular diseases

Mechanistically speaking, the heart is a pump that moves around 7,000 liters of blood through the body per day in an average trained and average person. The body uses the blood to transport nutrients and oxygen to the organs. The human brain alone, as the major consumer of organs, takes up about a fifth of the total volume of blood. Most people's heart beats between 60 and 90 times a minute. An eighty-year-old usually has between 2.5 and 3.8 billion heartbeats behind him.

Until the late Middle Ages, the ancient opinion held that the blood in the body was used up. It was not until 1628 that the English doctor William Harvey described the blood circulation as we know it today. Strictly speaking, humans have two blood circulation systems, the large body circulation, which is supplied by the left heart and the small pulmonary circulation, which is supplied by the right heart.

The most important cardiovascular diseases at a glance

According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, in 2008 every sixth to seventh discharge diagnosis in German hospitals was a cardiovascular disease. Four out of ten deaths in Germany are currently due to cardiovascular diseases. It's similar in other industrialized nations. These figures are also reflected in the treatment statistics: eight of the twenty drugs prescribed most frequently in 2009 were drugs for diseases of the cardiovascular system.

Even if the spectrum of cardiovascular diseases is broad, there are a few diseases that make up the largest proportion of them. High blood pressure is by far the most common cardiovascular disease. About 20 percent of all adults are affected. The rate is significantly higher in old age. Number two among cardiovascular diseases is coronary heart disease, one of several manifestations of "hardening of the arteries" or atherosclerosis. Over three million people in Germany are affected. Around two million Germans suffer from chronic heart failure or heart failure, a disease in which the heart's pumping capacity continues to decline.

The German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) offers researchers a framework to implement ideas together, better and faster. This is done with the aim of making new results available to everyone as quickly as possible and improving therapy, diagnosis and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The DZHK is one of six German Centers for Health Research (DZG) set up by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to combat the most important common diseases.

Cardiovascular diseases and their consequences

Cardiovascular diseases are medically and economically so important because they can have serious consequences for the patient. Atherosclerotic vascular changes in some people cause blood vessels to close. If this happens to the heart, they will have a heart attack. A vascular occlusion in the brain leads to a stroke. Heart disease can also affect the functioning of the heart itself. This manifests itself, for example, in cardiac arrhythmias such as the frequent atrial fibrillation, which affects around one million people in Germany.

The European Cardiovascular Diseases Network ("ERA-NET Cardiovascular Diseases", short: ERA-CVD) currently unites 23 partners from different European countries. Their common goal is to coordinate both new and existing research activities and programs in the participating countries. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research promotes the participation of German scientists.

Research and healthcare challenge

Cardiovascular diseases are often serious for those affected and expensive for the healthcare system. And: They are often avoidable. Research in this area can therefore pay off for the individual and for society. In the area of ​​basic research, for example, scientists are interested in the genetic basis of cardiovascular diseases and the molecular mechanisms that contribute to damage to the heart or blood vessels. In the area of ​​clinical research, the aim is to establish new therapeutic methods. And health services research deals, among other things, with the question of how people with cardiovascular diseases can be optimally cared for in order to avoid serious consequences such as heart attacks, strokes or water retention.

With the Integrated research and treatment centers (IFB), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is building model centers for important disease areas. In the centers, research and patient care are closely interlinked so that the results of research benefit people more quickly. Three of the eight IFBs conduct research in the field of cardiovascular diseases - for example on the subjects of heart failure, thrombosis and stroke.