Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia and indeed the world.

An Australian dies every 12 minutes from some form of the disease – that’s 118 deaths every single day.

More than 6 per cent or 1.2 million Australians live with more than one type of cardiovascular disease.

Its impact is emotional, debilitating and financial.

Every year, more than 43,000 families farewell loved ones who die with cardiovascular disease as the underlying cause – many of them die suddenly.

Hospitalisations run as high as 240,000 cases annually.

The cost to the Australian health system is now somewhere between $5-10 billion every year with projections for the decade reaching $61-88 billion.

This does not take into account the loss of productivity which raises the total cost for the 2020s as high as $370 billion.

Many people are born with genetic factors that make them more susceptible to cardiovascular disease.

Sadly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face double the risk of the general population.

But so much cardiovascular disease can be attributed to our modern lifestyle – a high cholesterol and high sodium diet, smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, high alcohol intake and stress leading to high blood pressure.

It’s well beyond time to think about what you can do to make better choices and ward off this disease.

Do it not just for yourself but your loved ones.

Common types of cardiovascular disease

There are many types of cardiovascular disease. The most common ones are:

Coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis – a chronic disease affecting the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. Around 57,000 Australians suffer a heart attack each year.

Stroke – occurs when a blood clot or bleed prevents your brain from getting enough oxygen. Another 51,000 Australians suffer a stroke each year.

Peripheral vascular disease – also known as PAD, occurs when you suffer a narrowing of arteries leading to your legs and feet

Childhood heart disease – refers to a congenital heart defect at birth affecting around 1 per cent of newborns.

Symptoms of cardiovascular disease

High blood pressure is often referred to as the silent killer because it is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke yet so often goes undetected without regular check-ups by your GP.

There are however many more obvious symptoms of cardiovascular disease and potentially life-threatening events such as heart attack and stroke. These include:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • dizziness and light headedness
  • fatigue
  • discomfort in jaw, arms or back
  • cold sweats
  • Sudden facial numbness or weakness 
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Vision problems
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking

Preventative measures

The best and most proactive step you can make is to visit your GP.

Many Australians who die suddenly from a heart attack were suffering from undiagnosed heart disease.

These sudden deaths could have been prevented with medical intervention.

Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure, listen to your heart and order a blood test which will include a check on your cholesterol levels.

Depending on your risk factors, you may also wish to visit a cardiologist for some more thorough examinations potentially including an ECG and a calcium score test – an X-ray of your heart which reveals the level of calcification in your coronary arteries.

Your GP will also talk to you about changes to your lifestyle to help reduce your risk factors.

These will likely include:

Diet – you should be aiming for a healthy, balanced diet that includes more fruit and vegetables, more whole grains and legumes, healthy fats (like nuts, seeds and avocados) and lean proteins. 

Reduce processed foods as well as your saturated and trans fat intake, salt and added sugars.

Exercise – regular physical activity is essential for a healthy heart. The amount and intensity we need varies with age but as a general rule, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity daily.

Weight – obesity is a massive risk factor. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is essential to reducing your chances of suffering a cardiac event.

Smoking – is another major risk factor. Regardless of how long you have been a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do to improve heart health.

Alcohol – too much alcohol can increase some of your risk factors by raising the levels of some fats in your blood, reducing the levels of good cholesterol and raising your blood pressure. 

Stress – it is well documented that chronic stress is a major contributor to heart disease. Managing your stress with various forms of exercise including yoga or tai chi, meditation or any release that you enjoy such as golf, fishing or reading will all be beneficial.

Book an appointment

Cardiovascular disease is something that every Australian should take seriously.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all risk factors that may be ignored at your peril.

Regular check-ups with your GP are the first line of defence against the disease.

Some simple non-invasive tests and a conscientious attempt to adopt a healthier lifestyle will significantly improve your chances of becoming another statistic.

At AHA Clinics, our doctors will investigate your heart health and chart your risk profile.

They will also offer advice about changes to your lifestyle including your diet, exercise and managing stress levels.

And they will refer you to a cardiologist for further investigation if they think it necessary.

Please remember, if you fear you are suffering from a cardiac event, dial 000 at once – it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Even if you have no symptoms, a heart check-up every two years is advised for anyone in their mid-40s.

Book an appointment today so we can hopefully put your heart concerns to rest.