Cardiovascular Diseases

A woman in a Malawi clinic has her blood pressure measured. High blood pressure is the leading controllable risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The Silent Killer

Cardiovascular diseases, a group of heart and blood vessel disorders, are the number one cause of death and disability globally.  Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease and causes an estimated 10 million deaths worldwide each year. Hypertension treatment is simple, effective, and affordable, yet the condition is often overlooked because it typically does not produce symptoms. Left untreated, this “silent killer” can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

In low- and middle-income countries, many deaths due to hypertension are premature, occurring in people under the age of 70. People are often not aware that they have high blood pressure because it is not routinely measured. If diagnosed, they may not have reliable access to the healthcare services or the treatment they need to control their blood pressure and reduce their risk of death and disability.

Reducing Premature Deaths

Global Hearts Initiative

To improve prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases globally, CDC, WHO, and other partners launched the Global Hearts Initiativeexternal icon. The initiative supports governments to make changes to social, economic, and environmental conditions and healthcare systems that reduce premature cardiovascular disease deaths and disability.

The initiative includes a collection of strategies, called technical packages, that translate evidence into best practices to help countries prevent or reduce a public health problem. The technical packages address tobacco control, salt reduction, trans fat elimination, physical activity promotion, and primary care strengthening.

infographic for the Global Hearts Initiative, containing logos and summaries for the five technical packages. mpower: to defeat the global tobacco epidemic; Active: to increase physical activity; SHAKE The Salt Habit: to reduce salt consumption; Replace Trans Fat: To eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids; HEARTS: to promote CVD management in primary health care
HEARTS Technical Package

CDC helped develop and is now supporting implementation of the HEARTS technical packageexternal icon (HEARTS), one of the Global Hearts Initiative technical packages. HEARTS promotes the use of evidence-based tools and practices to improve hypertension control through primary health care. HEARTS builds on lessons learned from successful hypertension programs in the United States and successful tuberculosis and HIV management programs globally. HEARTS, first piloted in Barbados and Malawi as the Standardized Hypertension Treatment and Prevention project, is now active globally.

HEARTS programs have shown that controlling hypertension is possible through consistent application of several core concepts:

Medical clipboard; medicine bottle; medical professionals; computer monitor showing graph; person walking
  • Standardized treatment protocols
  • Access to essential medications and technologies
  • Team-based care
  • Systems for monitoring
  • Healthy lifestyles counseling

Improving Measurement

As countries implement strategies to tackle cardiovascular risk factors, they need reliable methods to track the effectiveness of their programs. CDC works with partners to develop surveillance tools and protocols to produce data on blood pressure, sodium, and trans-fatty acids.