Aims: Mortality attributed to a disease is an important public health measure of the 'burden' of that disease. A discrepancy has been noted between the high mortality rates associated with heart failure (HF) and the share of deaths ascribed to HF in official mortality statistics. It was our main aim to estimate excess mortality associated with HF and use the estimates to better understand the burden of HF.
Methods and results: Excess mortality was defined as the difference in mortality rates between individuals with and those without HF. An epidemiological model was formulated that allowed deriving age-specific excess mortality rates in HF patients from HF incidence and prevalence. Incidence and prevalence were estimated from yearly collected cross-sectional data from four nationally representative General Practice registries in the Netherlands. The year 2007 was chosen as a reference. Next, excess mortality rates were used to calculate numbers of deaths among HF patients and compare the figures with national cause-of-death statistics. The latter were found to be more than three times smaller than the former (roughly 6000 vs. 21 000). Further, by applying HF prevalence and mortality rates to a life table of the Dutch population, average numbers of life years lost due to HF were calculated to be 6.9 years.
Conclusion: National mortality statistics strongly underestimate the number of deaths associated with HF. Moreover, the high mortality rate in HF patients amounts to a remarkably large number of life years lost given the advanced age of disease onset.