Meds access a barrier to reducing heart attack, stroke

hands form heart

Around one in five Australians aged 45 to 74 are at high risk of heart attack or stroke within the next five years but almost one million of them are not receiving the  currently recommended combination of medications, a major new study has found.

The study concluded that tens of thousands of Australian lives could be saved if people aged 45 or older had a full risk assessment and if people at high risk took the recommended mix of blood pressure-lowering and cholesterol-lowering medicines.

The research, led by Professor Emily Banks from The Australian National University and funded by the Heart Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council, has been published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

“Australia has a massive opportunity to prevent heart attacks and strokes,” says Prof Banks, from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU.

The research is the first to quantify the risk of cardiovascular disease for Australians.

It found around 20% of the population aged 45 to 74, or 1.4 million Australians, had a high risk of a heart attack or stroke within the next five years.

“A full cardiovascular risk assessment allows therapy to be targeted to those who would most benefit from it. Not only is this good clinical practice, it makes sound economic sense,” Prof Banks says.

Medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol are currently recommended in people at high risk and can more than halve the chances of having a heart attack or stroke in the future.

The study found a majority of those at high risk were not taking these medications, amounting to almost one million people at high risk not receiving them.

Heart Foundation’s national chief medical advisor Professor Garry Jennings says the findings are a wake-up call—for the community, health professionals and government—about the huge number at risk and missing out on life-saving checks.

“More than 100,000 Australians have a heart attack or stroke every year, most of which are avoidable if people at risk are detected early enough and well managed,” Prof Jennings says.

“It’s time to do more to reduce death and suffering. Simple things—including encouraging community awareness and providing greater government support to general practice for these life-saving heart checks—will make a big difference.”

Prof Jennings added that anyone aged 45 and over, or 35 if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, should go and see their doctor for a full cardiovascular risk assessment.

The ANU research was done in collaboration with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, using data from the 2011-12 National Health Measures Survey.

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