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Startling reduction in Heart Attack Deaths in Wartime Norway

This is a fascinating case study that brings relevant evidence pertinent to heart disease directly to the forefront. It should serve as a convincing argument about why people suffer from heart attacks, and also act as a guide on how to avoid them, which is the primary reason that the ‘Lower Blood Pressure’ website exists.


The unlikely connection with the quiet, peaceful and prosperous country of Norway is probably an unlikely place to look for heart disease statistics. Nevertheless some valuable data was obtained as a side effect of the occupation of this small nation by the invading army from Nazi Germany in the 1940’s.


Prior to the outbreak of World War 2 the Norwegian population enjoyed a high standard of living, including good nutrition – a relatively rich diet of food and drink compared with many other European countries. Unfortunately, the prosperous citizens of this tiny Scandinavian country also suffered from a high mortality rate from heart attacks and heart disease related illness.



During the occupation years, however, there was a sharp fall in the number of recorded deaths from heart attacks and other diseases of the cardiovascular system. Even more surprising was the observed reduction in the number of instances of blood clotting (thrombosis) in hospital patients recovering from surgery, due to the lack of physical activity during the post-operative sedentary period.


What could be the reason for this reduction in heart disease ?


The simple answer is that during the Nazi occupation of their country, the Norwegian people faced hardships that were previously unknown to them. This consisted of a cumulative series of denials of many of the unhealthy practices that we currently indulge in our daily lives in 2012.


This included the following :-


  • Drastic reduction in smoking due to shortage of supply of cigarettes and tobacco
  • Forced labor by the occupying army resulting in increased daily physical activity
  • Reduced intake of Meat and Dairy Produce – much of this was exported back to Germany
  • Massive increase in fish consumption – reliance on locally caught fish due to the shortage of beef, cheese and milk


The result of this forced change of lifestyle was that the majority of the population lost some weight, lowered their blood cholesterol level, became more physically fit, stopped smoking and lowered their blood pressure. Consequently, despite increasing stress levels due to the pressures on daily life imposed by the occupying forces of  the invading army, the overall heart health of the people increased !!


As if this wasn’t proof enough, we need to now look at what happened during the years following the end of the War. This is quite shocking. Within two short years, with the abundance of rich foods and tobacco, and despite a reduction in stress levels associated with daily living, the heart attack and stroke death rates were once again back at the pre-war levels.


Despite the glaring and uncontrovertible evidence that was available to the medical authorities from this wartime data, it would not be for another three decades until the world finally woke up to the inescapable correlation between diet, smoking exercise and heart disease.


It should serve as a valuable lesson to us all that we CAN make a difference to our own heart health, once we accept the undeniable facts, and it only takes a relatively short time (within a year or two) to begin to lower our risk of suffering from a heart attack.


50% Reduction in Heart Attack Instances in the United Kingdom

Here’s some great news about heart attacks and strokes for a change.


The British Heart Foundation has released new statistics in January 2012 that show a 50% reduction in the number of heart attacks suffered by people in the United Kingdom over the period from 2002 to 2012.


Furthermore, of those who do suffer a heart attack, or a stroke (which is effectively the same as a heart attack on the brain), there has been a corresponding fall of 50% in the number of deaths in these people as a result of the attack.


Professor Peter Weissberg (Medical Director at the BHF, and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine) was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today Program, and questioned by the presenter as to the reason for the fall. He revealed that research over the years has increased our understanding of the causes, and prevention of the cardiovascular disease, and also lead to improved treatments  for heart attack and stroke.


There has been much more publicity in recent years about how to look after your heart health, that has led to a greater understanding by the average person and encouraged them to eat healthier diets, take more exercise, quit smoking, and lose weight.


Another important factor that has recently started to impact  positively on the statistics, is the introduction of the smoking ban in public areas that was introduced in the United Kingdom in 2007. Smoking causes the furring up of the arteries that increases the risk of a heart attack. Smoking also has some detrimental impact on the already furred up arteries.


The British Heart Foundation also funded some research in Scotland that examined the impact of the smoking ban, and this has shown that the beneficial results of the new policy started to become apparent there within just three weeks of the start of the ban. This is very encouraging news for anyone who is considering considering giving up smoking, as it demonstrates the tangible and rapid benefit from giving up.


There is still much work to do however, as Cardiovascular Disease remains the largest single cause of death in the UK in 2012. Also a quarter of all people who suffer from a heart attack die before they are able to receive treatment. This is one area that Professor Weissberg indicated could be improved by more public awareness of how the average person could help to treat a heart attack victim at the scene of the incident using Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).


A new type of CPR has recently been publicised in a national TV advertising campaign. Known as ‘hard and fast’ it shows the Hollywood ‘hard man’ Vinnie Jones performing a new type of hands only CPR on a heart attack victim. You can see the movie below :-


Thousand of Unnecessary Deaths from Diabetes

Up to 24,000 people die unnecessarily in England every year from Diabetes, because they are not controlling their condition properly.

A report in December 2011 from the UK National Health Service (NHS) Information Centre suggests that most of these deaths could be prevented if patients took their medication, kept to a healthy diet and had regular health checks.

The highest rate of mortality is among young women with Diabetes, with women in the 18 to 24 age group more than nine times as likely to die as other young women of the same age. Young men in the same age range are more than four times as likely to die.

Part of every day life for the more than two million people in the United Kingdom is checking their blood sugar levels, and regulating their insulin level. If this not controlled properly, it can lead to potentially fatal complications.

However many people are simply not careful enough to regulate their diet and perform these vital regular diagnostic checks on their condition, and so many thousands are dying from resultant complications such as heart failure, or kidney failure.

Experts say that regular health checks, a healthy diet and the correct medication could prevent many of these deaths. According to Simon O’Neill from Diabetes UK, “over 60% of people with type 1 Diabetes, and over half of those with type 2 Diabetes don’t access all the care that they should get, so if we’re not actually monitoring for conditions that can lead to death, then we’re not going to be picking it up early and treating it effectively”.

The department of Health in the United Kingdom say that the National Health Service should be able to deliver co-ordinated care to keep patients out of hospital.

Case Study – Aortic Abdominal Aneurysm detected before it killed him

About Aortic Aneurysms

An aneurysm is the term given to a blood vessel that swells and becomes enlarged until it bursts.

Whilst these can occur in all the different parts of the body, they are especially dangerous when they develop in the Aorta, (the largest artery in the body, responsible for carrying all the blood that is pumped out of the heart via its many different branches) as the large loss of blood that results is frequently fatal.

In fact Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) are the fourth largest killer of males aged over 65 years in the United Kingdom – with an estimated six thousand annual fatalaties from the condition.

Worryingly, the condition has no warning signs or symptoms, and is often only diagnosed after the event, during the post mortem of the sufferer.


What are the Risk Factors for Aortic Aneurysm ?

The AAA can develop when the wall of the artery loses it’s elasticity, and becomes more hard and brittle. It can also stretch naturally with age.

However there are also avoidable lifestyle factors, such as having high cholesterol, smoking and being overweight or obese that all contribute to the development of the condition. These cause inflammation of the artery through fatty deposits, and can increase the chances of developing a bulge.


Screening Programme

Our case study patient, a male UK resident, is in his early seventies, and had never heard of the condition, until he happened upon an article about it in the media. Realising that he was in the target age group, he decided to enrol for a special screening program that is being run by the UK National Health Service.

The test consists of a short appointment for an ultrasound scan – approximately 15 minutes, to detect the condition, and in this case, the results very probably saved his life, as the scan detected that he had a large two and a half inch bulge in his own Aorta.

A month later he had life-saving surgery to reinforce the damaged section of the artery. This was done by opening up the Aorta and inserting a synthetic piece of tubing, then stitching the Aorta back in place around the tube.

After a couple of months recuperation he is now back to normal health, and able to lead a normal lifestyle with the threat of the Aneurysm removed.

The screening programme has already identified more than one hundred and thirty patients with similar sized Aortic bulges, any of which could have burst if they remained undetected.


Take Away Information

  • There are no warning signs or symptoms of imminent Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
  • If you are aged over 65 and male – you’re in the first risk category
  • If you’re overweight, obese or a smoker, you’re in the second risk category
  • If you’re in either of the above risk categories, you should get checked out by a doctor – it could save your life