Heart health fears as thousands miss check-ups due to pandemic  

29 September 2021

At least 27,000 fewer heart health checks were conducted in Australia from March 2020 to July 2021 due to the impact of COVID-19, the Heart Foundation says, prompting fears of a rise in preventable heart events and deaths in the future.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the world’s number one killer, resulting in 18.6 million deaths a year. Causes include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, air pollution, and less common conditions such as Chagas disease and cardiac amyloidosis.

For the 520 million people living with CVD, COVID-19 has been heartbreaking, the World Heart Federation says. They have been more at risk of developing severe forms of the virus. And many have been afraid to attend routine and emergency appointments, and have become isolated from friends and family.

This year on World Heart Day (today, September 29), the WHF is asking the world to ‘Use Heart to Connect’. Harnessing the power of digital health and Telehealth to improve awareness, prevention and management of CVD globally is the goal for Word Heart Day 2021.

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that 1.2 million Australian adults had one or more conditions related to heart, stroke or vascular disease in 2017–18.

There were 58,700 acute coronary events (including heart attack and unstable angina) and 38,600 stroke events among people aged 25 and over in 2018 - equating to around 161 and 100 events every day, respectively.

However, between 1980 and 2019, the number of cardiovascular disease deaths declined by 22%, from 55,800 to 42,300. Over the same period of time, the number of stroke deaths has declined by 30% from 12,100 to 8,400.

“These declines in deaths have been driven by a number of factors, including reductions in certain risk factors, clinical research, improvements in detection and secondary prevention, and advances in treatment, care, and management,’ said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

“However, the broader impact of heart, stroke and vascular disease to individuals and the health system is substantial and is expected to increase in the future as the population ages.’’

AIHW research also shows the rate of heart disease among Indigenous Australians is more than twice that of non-Indigenous people.

The AIHW estimates 42,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults had heart, stroke and vascular disease in 2018/19, based on ABS data. That equates to a rate of 11.4 per cent of Australia’s adult Indigenous population, more than twice that of non-Indigenous adults (5.4 per cent).

The rate of death from heart disease from 2017-19 among Indigenous Australians was 1.8 times greater than non-Indigenous Australians.

The AIHW says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to be exposed to a number of risk factors. Indigenous Australians aged over 15 were more than three times more likely to smoke daily and were more likely to have high blood pressure in 2017/18.

The Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Adviser and interim Group CEO, Professor Garry Jennings, said delays in people having their CVD risk assessed due to COVID could prove fatal and lead to a wave of heart disease.
“People have been reluctant to seek routine medical attention during the pandemic and that includes having preventive health checks like a Heart Health Check. This could have serious and even fatal consequences,” Professor Jennings said.

Lockdowns, as well as the resource-intensive rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program in GP practices, were linked to dramatic drops of up to 40% in people having the check across the country.

A Heart Health Check Toolkit was designed to streamline the assessment and management of CVD risk, reducing administrative burden, and allowing general practice to get the most out of financial and quality improvement incentives.

“It offers pre-populated assessment and management templates for Heart Health Checks that make it easier for GPs and practice nurses to collect CVD risk factor information and support patients,” Professor Jennings said.

The Heart Foundation has integrated the Toolkit into popular GP software, including Best Practice, which streamlines the check so GPs and practice nurses can focus on their patients’ needs.

The Heart Health Check Toolkit can found here.

For more on World Heart Day go to https://world-heart-federation.org/world-heart-day/