Heart disease cost the European Union a breath-taking 169 billion euros ($201 billion) in 2003, a study by a team at Oxford University's Health Economics Research Centre, published in the European Heart Journal, has revealed.

Findings of the study, the first to be undertaken to assess the economic impact in the EU, confirms that cardiovascular disease - in all its shapes and sizes - remains the biggest single health problem facing the continent, highlighting the urgent need for new therapies and better care of patients.

When spread across all EU citizens, the healthcare bill related to heart illnesses amounted to 230 euros per person in 2003, but it is not only the direct monetary costs that need to be considered: heart disease resulted in the loss of 268.5 million working days during the year, killed two million people, and affected the lives of 4.4 million others on a daily basis.

Regionally, the UK came in top in terms of the amount it spent, with 17.1% of its healthcare budget sunk into treating CV-related illnesses. Germany, Slokavia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Poland all spent around 15% of their budgets, and at the bottom of the table were Ireland and Malta, which shelled out just 4.4% and 2.0%, respectively, according to media reports.

The study authors hope that the results will “help policy makers evaluate policy impact and prioritize research expenditures,” but they do point out that, because of data unavailability, the study has important limitations, “which highlight the need for more accurate and comparable CV disease-specific information.”