World Heart Day – time to make your promise

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World Heart Day - 29 September 2018

Adjunct Professor John G Kelly, AM

Group CEO, National Heart Foundation of Australia
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John joined the Heart Foundation in August 2016. Previous to that, he led sector reform for aged care as CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia. He has extensive clinical, management and consulting background in the health sector, including previous careers in law and in cardiac nursing and current academic appointments with the Sydney Nursing School and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Saturday 29 September is arguably the day of the most popular event in Australia, the AFL Grand Final, but it is also World Heart Day, which offers a good reminder of the impact that heart disease has on individuals and communities. It also serves as a reminder that heart attack is common, disabling and preventable. 

Heart attack is a big killer of Australians every year. One Australian has a heart attack every 10 minutes. However, the perception that people have a heart attack and leave hospital a few days later ‘cured’ is far from the truth. 

A heart attack is a life-changing event and people who survive are faced with adjusting to a ‘new normal’. That is, living with a life-long condition of heart disease that, for many, will impact their quality of life. 

Heart attacks do vary in severity and while some people go on to live healthy lives, thousands of Australians who survive heart attacks every year experience lasting ill health that affects everyday life. This is the focus of the Heart Foundation’s 2018 Heart Attack Survivors Survey released this week, which highlights the disabling and ongoing impact a heart attack has on a person and their loved ones.

The Heart Attack Survivors survey provides a snapshot of how hundreds of heart attack survivors are faring in the first weeks, months and years after a heart attack. It also captures the often-untold story of a heart attack, which is the struggle many people experience in getting back to the life they knew before their heart attack. 

While the Heart Foundation recommends people work towards resuming usual activities in a few weeks after their heart attack, the survey tells a different story. Results found one in four survivors have not been able to resume work at all, while a further quarter had resumed work but not at the same level as before their heart attack. 

Survivors’ exercise levels are also affected, with one in two survivors reporting they have not been able to return to pre-heart attack levels of exercise or have been unable to resume exercise at all.

Even performing basic activities such as showering and bathing is difficult, with one in four people saying they could not do so at the same level before their heart attack. These challenges can seriously affect the life of both the survivor and their family. While it’s important to talk about the prevention of heart attack, it’s just as important to talk about treatment and recovery. 

Cardiac rehabilitation, which usually runs for 6 to 10 weeks, is a program coordinated by health professionals that helps heart attack survivors recover and get back to normal activities sooner. It is a critical step in a patient’s journey to better health after a heart attack and should be seen as an investment in the future – and this claim stacks up.  People are 40 per cent less likely to be readmitted to hospital and 25 per cent less likely to die from another heart attack if they have taken part in a cardiac rehab program. 

The good news is that the latest survey findings show cardiac rehab attendance has increased by 30 per cent in the past two years.

In 2018, more than half (57 per cent) of heart attack survivors reported attending cardiac rehab with the majority (86 per cent) completing the program. 

Cardiac rehab is critical to whether a survivor maintains lifestyle changes after a heart attack. Those who completed cardiac rehab were nearly 80 per cent more likely to increase their physical activity and maintain these changes than those who didn’t complete. 

Medical professionals play a key role when it comes to people attending cardiac rehab after their heart attack.

Along with an increase in attendance, the latest survey results have also seen a significant increase in heart attack survivors reporting they discussed cardiac rehab with medical staff before leaving hospital. In addition to this, two in five survivors were told by medical staff to attend a rehab program, also a big increase. This is important because people who were told by medical staff to attend cardiac rehab were more than 60 per cent more likely to attend and complete than those who weren’t.  

Created and led by the World Heart Federation (WHD), World Heart Day aims to combat the rising number of people with cardiovascular disease – among Australia’s most common and most costly disease groups. This year, the campaign includes a clear and simple call to action to encourage individuals to commit to healthier habits by making a heart promise. 

We would ask that medical professionals make a promise to encourage more heart attack survivors to take on cardiac rehab, and that survivors promise themselves they will complete it.