Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia and in 2017 claimed the lives of 18,590 Australians, or 12 per cent of all deaths. And according to Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, Causes of Death 2017, the alarming statistics don’t stop there.
Again in 2017, the latest figures available, 51 Australians died every day from heart disease or put another way, heart disease was responsible for a death every 28 minutes.
Also in 2017, as an underlying and contributing cause heart disease was a factor in nearly one in four, or 34,827 deaths in 2017. There are, however, steps that can be taken to reduce your chances of suffering heart disease or having a heart attack. While some risk factors associated with heart disease tend to be genetic and cannot be prevented, others such as smoking, being overweight and lack of exercise can be addressed.
National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis says community pharmacies can play an important part in helping people reduce their risk factors. “Community pharmacists, in collaboration with other healthcare providers, are ideally placed in the healthcare system and have been shown to have a positive impact on the control of risk factors,” Mr Tambassis said.
“They are every accessible, often open after hours and on weekends and have healthcare professionals on hand to help you and discuss ways to reduce risks.” Mr Tambassis said the control of risk factors was critical to reducing heart disease as people with two or more risk factors faced a greatly increased chance of having a heart attack over those with one or no risk factors.
“But there is no room for complacency and the National Heart Foundation reports that close to 73 per cent, of Australians aged 30 to 65 years reported having been told by their doctor they have at least one risk factor,” he said. “Even one risk factor is one to many.”
The main risk factors are:
Family history of heart disease
Age – risk increases as you age
Being overweight or obese
Risk factors which can be addressed include cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking and many community pharmacies have specific programs aimed at these issues.
“Being overweight puts the heart under added stress, increasing the likelihood of a heart attack,” he said. “Obesity is also a major factor in the onset of diabetes which can also add to heart risk factors.
“Added to this is the fact that very overweight people often have sleep problems which are also a risk factor for heart attacks. “Community pharmacies conducting weight management programs can assist and monitor patients and customers trying to lose weight. These programs are also very targeted at diabetes management.
“Many community pharmacies also conduct smoking cessation programs, with staff and pharmacists supporting and counselling participants wanting to give up smoking. The programs also promote healthy living with diet and exercise.
“Community pharmacies also often have facility for cholesterol checks and some hold regular health checks which cover a range of areas and risk factors.” Mt Tambassis said regardless of what programs are being undertaken to reduce risk factors, people should be aware of warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
“Heart Research Australia warns that most people believe a chest pain is the only warning sign. However, almost half of heart attack survivors experience jaw, neck, back or shoulder pain during a heart attack, yet only one in five Australians are aware they are symptoms of a heart attack.
“Heart attack warning signs may include pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in one or more parts of the upper body in combination with other symptoms of nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or a cold sweat. “Heart attack warning signs and symptoms vary and may not always be sudden or severe.
You can have these symptoms for weeks before a heart attack actually occurs. “Community pharmacists have always played a role in promoting, maintaining and improving the health of the communities they serve.” Mr Tambassis said more than 5,700 community pharmacies in Australia were already providing a wide range of public health services that are easily accessible and cost effective.
“These pharmacies are found across the country from remote regions to metropolitan areas and are therefore well placed to help most Australians take a step towards reducing the probability of a having a heart attack and addressing heart diseases risk factors.”