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New data shows half of Australians unaware of major risk factor for heart disease

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New data shows half of Australians unaware of major risk factor for heart disease

Media release: 6 May 2024

Concerning finding vindicates Heart Foundation call for Federal Government to support a National Screening Program for cardiovascular disease

Nearly half of all Australians at-risk of cardiovascular disease do not know their family history, despite it being a major risk factor for heart attack or stroke.

That’s according to a new survey from the Heart Foundation this Heart Week (6th to 12th of May) which underscores the pressing need for a national screening program to call-up more Australians to have their risk of cardiovascular disease assessed by a GP.

The survey was conducted by the Heart Foundation for Heart Week and included almost 1000 Australians aged between 45 and 74 years – the age range for people eligible for a Heart Health Check.

“If a parent, sibling or child experiences heart disease prematurely then you also may be at risk,” said Natalie Raffoul, Healthcare Programs Manager with the Heart Foundation.

Heart Foundation Healthcare Programs Manager Natalie Raffoul

Family history of premature cardiovascular disease is defined as a heart attack or stroke in a first-degree female relative aged 65 or under, or 55 and under for male relatives.

Natalie Raffoul

Healthcare Programs Manager

“The best way to understand how your family history may impact your risk of developing heart disease is to interpret it in the context of your overall risk, something your GP will assess as part of a 20-minute Heart Health Check.”

“Your GP will ask you about your family and medical history, measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose and ask you about your lifestyle. Your GP can accurately estimate your risk of a heart attack or stroke within the next five years and make a plan with you, right there and then, to help you avoid the worst possible outcome.”

Australians with known risk factors not seeing their GPs enough

More than 40,000 Australians die from cardiovascular disease each year with nearly 600,000 hospitalised for it.

Survey findings also highlight that more than half of eligible Australian adults (58%) have not seen their GP for a Heart Health Check in the last 2 years and of these, over one third are living with high blood pressure (37%) or high cholesterol (32%) – two of the leading risk factors for heart attacks.

“Complacency around heart disease prevention is high. A targeted screening program would help us direct life saving preventative checks to Australians that need it most without waiting for them to voluntarily present to their GP for a check up.”

Heart Health Checks are working – it’s now time to prompt more Australians to take one

Almost 630,000 Australians have had a Heart Health Check since the Medicare items were introduced in 2019. And the new Australian Cardiovascular Disease Risk Calculator has been used more than 745,000 times by GPs and health professionals to help assess cardiovascular risk in their patients.

“GPs have the tools, the Heart Health Check is working when people use it – now is the time to introduce a program that proactively identifies and recalls at-risk Australians,” Ms Raffoul said.

“Your risk of developing heart disease is influenced by more than just the commonly- known lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet. Risk is also strongly influenced by your family history, cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes status.

“This is why it’s so important to have regular Heart Health Checks with your GP from the age of 45 years.”

About Heart Week

Heart Week is Australia’s national heart health awareness week held in May each year. It provides an opportunity for the Australian public and health professionals to start a conversation about heart health and take positive steps to reduce their heart disease risk.

This Heart Week, the Heart Foundation is encouraging everyday Australians to never miss a beat by speaking to their GP about a Heart Health Check. To complement this, the Heart Foundation is urging health professionals to engage their patients about heart health and use the Aus CVD Risk calculator during their next Heart Health Check.

Last updated06 May 2024