Heart disease in Europe claims over two million lives every year, and cost the European Union 192 million euros (285 million dollars) in 2006, a group of health organisations said Tuesday.
A statistical study by the European Society of Cardiology and the European Heart Network also shows huge differences across Europe in death rates due to coronary artery disease and strokes, the two main types of heart disease.
Several countries in eastern and northern Europe -- notably Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia -- have mortality rates five to seven times higher than western European nations, especially France, Portugal and Switzerland, the study showed.
These organisations presented their findings Tuesday to deputies in the European Parliament Heart Group, and made recommendations on how to improve prevention and reduce mortality rates.
"These latest figures show that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a critical health problem for Europe and must be taken seriously," said Latvia's Georgs Andrejevs, chairman of the parliamentary group.
"High risk countries should take urgent steps to implement measures to reduce the burden of CVD," he said.
Of the 192-billion-euro cost in 2006 of CVD, 57 percent was directly linked to health care, while 21 percent was attributed to productivity loss, and 22 percent to the cost of informal care provided by relatives and friends.
The financial burden of heart disease resulted in a per capita cost of 391 euros (581 dollars), the study concluded.
"Premature dealth and suffering from CVD is largely avoidable," said Susanne Longstrup from the European Heart Network. Successful strategies in western European countries to reduce mortality related to heart disease should be extended throughout the continent, she said.
The European countries with the highest death rates for ischaemic heart disease -- which includes coronary artery disease and heart attacks -- are Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia.
At the other end of the scale are France, with the lowest rate, followed by Portugal, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.
For cerebrovascular disease, mainly strokes, the most afflicted countries are Romania, Latvia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Estonia. Those least affected are Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Greece.