Half a million at-risk Aussies neglect heart health during pandemic: new research

Heart Foundation

The Heart Foundation is imploring Australians to stop neglecting their heart health, as it unveils new research suggesting people with heart disease are more likely to skip check-ups in the age of COVID-19.

The survey of more than 5000 Australian adults, released on World Heart Day, found people with heart disease, or at high risk of heart disease, were more likely to miss or delay an appointment with their GP between April and August than other Australians (27% versus 17%).

With 2.1 million Australians living with heart disease or at high risk of heart disease, the Heart Foundation has calculated more than 500,000 of these patients are skipping potentially life-saving check-ups or ongoing management of their condition during the pandemic.

Even more worrying, is this is likely to continue. About one in five people at highest risk say they are unlikely to attend future appointments with their GP due to concerns about the risks of COVID-19.

People with heart disease are more vulnerable to experiencing severe complications if infected with the virus.
Heart Foundation General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, urged Australians not to let the COVID-19 “fear factor” stop them from seeking care for their hearts.

“Heart disease doesn’t stop during a pandemic. It’s alarming to see the people who most need to stay in touch with their doctor are the ones missing out,” Mr Stavreski said.

“Australians are understandably worried about COVID-19, but looking after our hearts has never been more important. It is vital that you continue to monitor your heart health and stay in contact with your GP, and there are options to do this safely via telehealth or in person.

“We’re concerned about the implications of this neglect for the future heart health of Australians. We don’t want to see a stalling of the progress we have made in lowering heart disease death rates.”

The trend does not appear to be improving as restrictions were lifted in most states and territories – in August, about 30% of people surveyed with heart disease were avoiding GP appointments.

The leading heart health charity warns there has also been a drop-off in people speaking to doctors about risk factors and heart health generally, compared with pre-COVID-19 levels.

The biggest dip was in people discussing their blood pressure or cholesterol with their GP, despite millions of Australians having high blood pressure (6.2 million) and high cholesterol (7.1 million).

These conditions are known as ‘silent killers’ because there are often no obvious signs or symptoms, yet they put you at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke.

“Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked is an essential part of managing your risk of heart disease, so we would urge Australians not to put it off any longer,” Mr Stavreski said.

“Heart disease is still the nation’s single biggest killer, but it’s fallen off the radar for many Australians. World Heart Day is a fitting occasion to put the focus back on heart health.”

World Heart Day is celebrated each year on 29 September.

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