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Open Access Research article

Cardiovascular disease in relation to diabetes status in immigrants from the Middle East compared to native Swedes: a cross-sectional study

Louise Bennet125*, Carl-David Agardh13 and Ulf Lindblad4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

2 Center for Primary Health Care Research, Region Skåne and Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

3 Unit of Vascular Diabetic Complications, Lund University, Skåne University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden

4 Department of Primary Health Care, Institute of Medicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Center for Primary Health Care Research, Clinical Research Centre, Building 60, Floor 12, Skåne University Hospital, Jan Waldenströms gata 37, Malmö 205 02, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1133  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1133

Published: 5 December 2013



Type 2 diabetes is highly prevalent in immigrants to Sweden from Iraq, but the prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and its risk factors are not known. In this survey we aimed to compare the prevalence of CVD and CVD-associated risk factors between a population born in Iraq and individuals born in Sweden.


This population-based, cross-sectional study comprised 1,365 Iraqi immigrants and 739 Swedes (age 30-75 years) residing in the same socioeconomic area in Malmö, Sweden. Blood tests were performed and socio-demography and lifestyles were characterized. To investigate potential differences in CVD, odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated by multivariate logistic regression analysis with adjustment for metabolic, lifestyle and psychosocial risk factors for CVD. Outcome measures were odds of CVD.


There were no differences in self-reported prevalence of CVD between Iraqi- and Swedish-born individuals (4.0 vs. 5.5%, OR 0.9, 95% CI 0.4-1.8). However, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes was higher in Iraqi compared to Swedish participants (8.4 vs. 3.3%, OR = 4.2, 95% CI 2.6-6.7). Moreover, among individuals with type 2 diabetes, Iraqis had a higher prevalence of CVD (22.8 vs. 8.0%, OR = 4.2, 95% CI 0.9-20.0), after adjustment for age and sex. By contrast, among those without diabetes, immigrants from Iraq had a lower prevalence of CVD than Swedes (2.2 vs. 5.5%, OR = 0.6, 95% CI 0.3-0.9).

Type 2 diabetes was an independent risk factor for CVD in Iraqis only (OR = 6.8, 95% CI 2.8-16.2). This was confirmed by an interaction between country of birth and diabetes (p = 0.010). In addition, in Iraqis, type 2 diabetes contributed to CVD risk to a higher extent than history of hypertension (standardized OR 1.5 vs. 1.4).


This survey indicates that the odds of CVD in immigrants from Iraq are highly dependent on the presence or absence of type 2 diabetes and that type 2 diabetes contributes with higher odds of CVD in Iraqi immigrants compared to native Swedes. Our study suggests that CVD prevention in immigrants from the Middle East would benefit from prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes; Cardiovascular disease; Migration; Middle East