Action is urgently needed to come up with new treatments to help rising numbers of people who suffer from multiple health conditions, a charity has warned.
The British Heart Foundation said more should be done to look after more than two million heart disease patients who are also living with other illnesses.
New research by the charity found that 90 per cent of coronary heart disease (CHD) patients have at least one other long-term condition. There are around 2.3m people living with CHD across the UK, and nine in 10 have so-called “multi-morbidities” including high blood pressure, diabetes or dementia.
The charity warned that the NHS is traditionally focused on treating individual illnesses and a more personalised approach is needed.
It follows previous research which found that CHD patients are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke or develop vascular dementia, which is caused by reduce blood flow to the brain.
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “Over the years we’ve made huge progress in improving survival rates for single conditions like heart attacks, with BHF-funded research leading the way. However today’s figures point towards an emerging and very urgent challenge.
“For example, increasing numbers of people are surviving heart attacks, but are going on to suffer strokes or live with additional conditions like vascular dementia. These conditions limit people’s quality of life, increase their risk of dying and will place increasing pressure on the NHS and social care system across the UK.”
BHF’s analysis also found that 57 per cent of CHD patients suffer at least three other long-term conditions.
More than half of CHD patients suffer from high blood pressure, 26 per cent have diabetes and 14 per cent have also suffered a stroke. Around one in eight also suffer from heart failure and one in 20 have dementia, BHF found.
The charity has called for more research to improve the understanding of how different conditions are connected.
Mr Gillespie said: “The NHS has traditionally focused on treating individual illnesses rather than individuals.
“We need a more personalised approach to be taken to the treatment of people living with multiple diseases..
“We can only reverse this trend by funding more research into all conditions of the heart and circulatory system, with a focus on how they can be treated together.
“This type of research is currently chronically under-funded but, with more support, we can fund innovative approaches to tackle these conditions head on.
“This could ensure millions of people don’t have to spend years of their life suffering from several long-term debilitating conditions, or worse, dying from them.”
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the charity, added: “More research is needed to understand the underlying reasons for the connections between different conditions, and why the number of people living with multiple diseases is rising at such speed.
“While factors like an ageing population, and the increasing number of people with conditions like diabetes is contributing, they don’t fully explain the trends we’re seeing.
“It is critically important that we find innovative ways to tackle multi-morbidity, and not just focus on individual illnesses.
“Research in this area is vital if we are to improve lives and create a more sustainable future for the NHS.”