Skip to main content
Home » Cardiology » What makes ASCVD an ‘invisible killer’ and how to prevent it

Neil Johnson

Chief Executive, Croí, The Heart & Stroke Charity

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the world’s biggest killer. This is a statement of shame when you consider that as many as 80% of these premature cardiovascular deaths could be prevented.

In this 21st century, why do we allow 19 million people worldwide to die prematurely from CVD every year?

Danger of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) is the underlying cause of 85% of heart attack and stroke-related deaths and affects more than 500 million people worldwide, according to Invisible Nation. ASCVD is an umbrella term used to describe different diseases caused primarily by the build-up of fatty deposits, called plaques, in the arteries.

What’s especially worrying about ASCVD is its invisible nature. The plaques subtly build up over time, with many people not experiencing any symptoms until a plaque ruptures. When this happens, it can cause devastating consequences, such as a heart attack or stroke. 

Causes of ASCVD and risk factors

A key cause of ASCVD is high levels of cholesterol in the body. While cholesterol is essential to the normal functioning of our bodies, too much of the ‘bad’ type (called LDL-C) contributes to the build-up of plaques in our arteries. High cholesterol levels often go unnoticed because there are no symptoms until a sudden heart attack or stroke occurs. Several research studies show that large numbers of Irish adults are living with levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which significantly increases their risk.

A key cause of ASCVD is high levels of cholesterol in the body.

United in ASCVD prevention

The invisible nature of ASCVD and high cholesterol are perhaps two reasons why CVD deaths are so high. However, high cholesterol is easily identifiable through a simple blood test, and levels can be managed through lifestyle changes (such as exercise and diet) and medication. 

Despite the scale of the problem, many countries, including Ireland, do not have a national cardiovascular health strategy. As a society, we are just not taking this burden seriously. We need to reframe the discussion about cardiovascular disease, take a fresh look at it and wake up to the reality of just how significant a burden this disease has on individuals and populations.

On World Heart Day, I urge you to join the fight against complacency around the dangers of ASCVD. Support The Global Cholesterol Action Plan as it aims to reduce the impact of unhealthy cholesterol levels as recommended by the World Heart Federation. At Croí, we are at the forefront of the fight against heart disease and stroke in Ireland.

Add your name to the pledge to show your support of the Global Heart Hub’s Global Cholesterol Action Plan on

Next article