The statistics around heart disease are quite startling; every 12 minutes an Australian dies from heart disease, heart disease kills three times as many women as breast cancer and seven in ten Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease and its risk factors can also be completely silent, with no signs or symptoms, it is imperative to be aware of how healthy your heart is.
When should I get a heart health check?
So, when is it time for a heart health check? A devastating health crisis such as a heart attack or stroke shouldn’t be the first time you consider the health of your heart. If you have any risk factors for heart disease, even if you are young, fit and healthy you should see your doctor for a heart health check. Some risk factors for heart disease are unavoidable, such as your:
- age: as you get older your risk of heart disease increases, with women’s risk increasing from menopause onward
- gender: men are at higher risk of heart disease than women
- family history: if you have a close family member who has been affected by heart disease, your risk also increases
However, there are a range of risk factors which can be treated by your doctor to lower your risk of heart disease, these include:
- whether or not you smoke
- if you are overweight or inactive
- if have high blood pressure
- if have high cholesterol
- if have sleep apnoea or
- if have depression
As heart disease can be asymptomatic, it is important to see your doctor if you have any of the previously mentioned risk factors, even if you feel fit and well. If you have no risk factors, you should still see a doctor for a heart health check if:
- you are over 45 years of age or are over 35 years of age and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.
- you genetically have a high level of cholesterol. Sometimes these levels can’t be lowered simply with a healthy lifestyle and may require medication.
What is a heart health check?
A heart health check is a thorough investigation into the health of your heart. A heart health check is an appointment in which your doctor asks you a range of questions, does some tests and calculates your risk of heart disease. You will be asked about things such as your diet, your lifestyle and exercise (how active you are and how regularly you exercise), your family’s health history and any other diseases you may be experiencing (such as diabetes or kidney disease). Your doctor will then take your blood pressure and do blood tests to check your HDL and LDL, which are your good and bad cholesterol levels. Ideally your blood pressure will be consistently less than 140 over 90, your LDL less than 2.5 or lower and your waist circumference less than 80 centimetres for a woman and 94 centimetres for men.
Where to from here?
After your doctor has assessed your heart health they will assign you one of three levels of risk.
Low risk: This means that you have a less than one in ten chance of having a heart attack in the next five years.
Medium risk: This means you have more than one in ten chance of having a heart attack should your risk factors go unmanaged.
High risk: This means you have more than one in seven chance of having a heart attack in the subsequent five years if your risk factors go unmanaged.
Depending on your level of risk for heart attack, there are a variety of treatments which can help lower your risk of heart disease including simple tweaks to your lifestyle, ensuring you are eating well and exercising and taking medication to lower your cholesterol, blood pressure or both. Regardless of your treatment, if you have any level of risk for heart disease you will need monitoring by your doctor. With heart attack and stroke killing 51 Australians per day, it is crucial do everything you can to keep your heart happy and healthy.