July 1 (UPI) -- Differences in heart health between people in the eastern and western parts of Germany show a long-term effect of the Berlin Wall on the country, according to new findings presented Wednesday on HFA Discoveries.
Germany was divided in the aftermath of World War II, and different healthcare structures developed in East and West Germany. The country became unified again in 1990, but new research shows effects of the decades-long separation persist, researchers say.
From 2000 to 2017, the absolute number of hospital admissions due to heart failure throughout Germany increased continuously by nearly 94 percent -- to approximately 465,000 from just under 240,000 -- researchers said.
However, the increase was much higher, at 119 percent, in the region that once encompassed East Germany, compared to just over 88 percent in the region once known as West Germany, they said.
Study co-author Marcus Dörr, a professor at the University Medicine Greifswald in Germany, said differences between the two regions in prevalence of heart failure risk factors may explain the findings.
"In fact, previous research has shown that, for example, hypertension, diabetes and obesity are much more common in East than in West Germany," Dörr said in a press release.
In addition, lingering differences in patient care, as well as in the management of healthcare systems between the two regions, still might exist, Dörr said.
In general, heart failure is the most common reason for hospital admissions in the United States, Germany and much of the world, he said.
For their research, Dörr and his colleagues analyzed data from the Federal Health Monitoring project, an annual census of routine health data in Germany, for 2000 through 2017.
Heart failure was the leading cause of disease-related hospitalization in Germany in 2017, they found.
However, heart failure hospitalization rates nearly doubled in the former East Germany -- to 2.9 percent from 1.5 percent -- from 2000 to 2017, while it increased to 2.2 percent from 1.4 percent in the former West Germany over the same period, the researchers said.
While the overall length of hospital stays decreased continuously over the same period, the total number of heart failure-related hospital days increased by 51 percent in East Germany, compared to 35 percent in West Germany.
In 2017, heart failure was by far the leading cause of in-hospital death across Germany, accounting for 8.2 percent of deaths, they found.
However, in the region that once was East Germany, heart disease caused 65 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, compared to 43 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the former West Germany, they said.
The differences may have to do with the average age of people in East Germany -- four years older than it is in the West -- but the differences in heart failure-related parameters were similar after standardization, the researchers said.
Before reunification in 1990, East and West Germany had distinct healthcare systems, Dörr said. The system in East Germany was essentially run by the state, with less than 1 percent of physicians working in private practice, and there were often shortages of technical equipment, he said.
"Since 1990, both regions have the same federal healthcare system with more physicians in private practice and similar clinical care pathways" Dörr said. "More research is needed to explain the huge differences observed between East and West Germany."