Health Economics – The Hidden Epidemic

It is a silent epidemic, but behind the scenes it is responsible for up to nine percent of deaths in Austria among under 90-year-olds, according to a new study by health economist Thomas Czypionka from the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS). We are talking about elevated cholesterol levels, i.e. what is called hypercholesterolemia in medical jargon.

Czypionka, who studied both medicine and economics, estimates the economic costs of excess cholesterol in Austria to be over one billion euros. But that is even “more of an underestimate than an overestimate, since we cannot estimate certain costs,” he says. In addition, there is the psychological and physical burden on those affected, which is of course difficult to quantify.

Possible consequence: heart attack

In any case, it is clear that high cholesterol levels can lead to clogging of the arteries and thus to serious secondary diseases such as a heart attack. On the one hand, this can be expressed in high economic costs (direct costs such as treatment costs and indirect costs caused, for example, by the loss of those affected from the labor market) and, on the other hand, in a reduced life expectancy and quality of life for those affected.

Despite the importance of this disease, the data on the distribution of elevated cholesterol levels in Austria is poor. More precisely, according to Czypionka, no data is collected in Austria, which is why his study is also based on an extrapolation of corresponding data from Germany to Austria: “It is a failure that on the one hand we have a well-planned health system in Austria and on the other hand we don’t even have the major health factors,” criticizes the expert.

Better data in the future?

The Ministry of Health indicated to the “Wiener Zeitung” that the data situation should improve in the future: The introduction of a “mandatory coded outpatient diagnosis documentation” is in preparation, they say.

In any case, the data already shows that Austria suffers from high cholesterol levels. Because according to Czypionka’s study, only a minority of men over the age of 30 and women over the age of 45 have an optimal cholesterol level of less than five millimoles per liter. “There is a surprising number of people who are affected,” says the health economist.

So there is enough action to be taken. Czypionka therefore recommends raising public awareness of the topic and, in particular, involving general practitioners – i.e. all those medical professionals who usually know their patients best – more closely.

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