Heart failure and socioeconomic status: accumulating evidence of inequality

Eur J Heart Fail. 2012 Feb;14(2):138-46. doi: 10.1093/eurjhf/hfr168.


Aims: Socioeconomic status (SES) is a powerful predictor of incident coronary disease and adverse cardiovascular outcomes. Understanding the impact of SES on heart failure (HF) development and subsequent outcomes may help to develop effective and equitable prevention, detection, and treatment strategies

Methods and results: A systematic literature review of electronic databases including PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library, restricted to human subjects, was carried out. The principal outcomes were incidence, prevalence, hospitalizations, mortality, and treatment of HF. Socioeconomic measures included education, occupation, employment relations, social class, income, housing characteristics, and composite and area level indicators. Additional studies were identified from bibliographies of relevant articles and reviews. Twenty-eight studies were identified. Lower SES was associated with increased incidence of HF, either in the community or presenting to hospital. The adjusted risk of developing HF was increased by ∼30-50% in most reports. Readmission rates following hospitalization were likewise greater in more deprived patients. Although fewer studies examined mortality, lower SES was associated with poorer survival. Evidence defining the equity of medical treatment of patients with HF was scarce and conflicting.

Conclusions: Socioeconomic deprivation is a powerful independent predictor of HF development and adverse outcomes. However, the precise mechanisms accounting for this risk remain elusive. Heart failure represents the endpoint of numerous different pathophysiological processes and 'chains of events', each modifiable throughout the disease trajectories. The interaction between SES and HF is accordingly complex. Disentangling the many and varied life course processes is challenging. A better understanding of these issues may help attenuate the health inequalities so clearly evident among patients with HF.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Heart Failure / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Class*