Ticker can be time-bomb, warns heart expert

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by asking their doctors for a health check as early as 20, a leading Indigenous health expert said.

Associate Professor and Wongaibon man Ray Lovett said cardiovascular disease was preventable if caught early.

His advice to get checked before reaching 30 came as a ground-breaking Australian study into cardiovascular disease in Indigenous Australians was released last Monday.

Dr Lovett was a co-author of the study which found that current Australian guidelines—which recommend testing at 35 years—meant a big number of younger people at risk were likely to be missed.

“Our mob know that heart health is a big issue for us,” he said. “This research gives us the knowledge to ask our health care provider to assess and help us manage our heart health.”

Dr Lovett, head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Program at the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health in Canberra, said doctors should also be aware of the increased risks for young Indigenous people and recommend screening early.

The world-first study, by the ANU and published in the Australian Medical Journal, involved more than 2,800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It found significant numbers were at high risk of heart attack or stroke — and that the risk started earlier than previously thought and increased with age.

Professor Emily Banks, from the ANU Research School of Population and Health, said about one-third to a half of Indigenous Australians in their 40s, 50s and 60s were at high risk of a future heart attack or stroke.

“We also find that high levels of risk are occurring in people aged younger than 35, the recommended starting age for heart health screening in national guidelines,” she said.

Professor Banks said most people at high risk were not receiving recommended treatment.

The risk of cardiovascular disease for Indigenous Australians is higher than the general population because of increased risk factors such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease and smoking, the study said.

Federal Indigenous health minister Ken Wyatt said recognising the risk would help save and improve lives and contribute to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in life expectancy.

Wendy Caccetta


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