22 June 2018
(photo: pexels)

Heart disease: a quiet killer

Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). In the time it takes you to watch a one-hour television show, nearly six Aussies have died from heart-related diseases.

The most common forms of CVD include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure, and arrhythmia.

With nearly 44, 000 thousand deaths attributed to CVD in 2016, it has become the leading cause of death in Australia. With such distressing statistics, why is the conversation among young people about cardiovascular disease virtually nonexistant in day to day life?

We often talk about cancer, mental health and domestic violence, however, heart disease doesn’t seem to be a hot topic for discussion. For a disease that affects up to 4 million Australians, how can we raise awareness about such a big issue?

I took to the streets to ask some young Australians about what exactly they know about CVD, and how often they have discussed it among their peers.

Mollie Wilson, a 20-year-old arts-student at the University of Sydney said she’s aware it’s a problem but wouldn’t consider herself fully informed on the facts.

“I know it’s definitely a big issue… I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable talking statistics in a group though. I guess I always just thought it’s something that is more relevant to older people,” she said.

“I’m shocked to find out it’s our biggest killer… that’s really scary.”

While heart disease does affect a higher percentage of middle-aged and elderly Australians, it does impact young people too.

22 June 2018
Regular exercise reduces your risk of CVD (photo: Pexels)

The National Health Survey stated that between 2014 and 2015, there were 12,000 people aged between 18 and 40 with ischaemic heart disease and a further 12,000 with other types of heart disease such as congestive heart failure.

Daniel Anthony, a 22-year-old hospitality worker from Double Bay said he knows little to nothing about heart disease and it’s something that hasn’t directly affect him.

“I’ve seen bits and pieces on the news but to be honest it’s just not something that I think about on a regular basis,” he said.

“I’ve lost one friend to suicide and another in a road accident … but of all the ways I could die, I’ll admit I haven’t really considered CVD as one of them.

“Now that I know a bit more about the stats it’s definitely got me thinking about ways to reduce my future risk.”

With barely any sites specifically targeting CVD awareness in young people – who mostly believe the disease isn’t relevant to them – how can we combat this problem and get the message out to them?

In February, the Turnbull government pledged $150, 000 towards fighting childhood heart disease, which is a start. As far as preventative actions, the Heart Foundation advises you to quit smoking, keep a healthy diet, aim for a healthy weight, lower your cholesterol and manage your blood pressure. Diabetics are advised to keep particularly healthy as heart attacks and strokes are four times more likely for them.

Health professionals are advising people to be more conscious of their diet (Photo: Joe Attanasio)

In cases where young Australians have parents affected by heart disease, health professionals are pushing for people to consider the reasons why this might be the case. Genetics does play a role in CVD but unhealthy lifestyle choices passed down through the generations are also a big contributor.

Clementine Oss-emer, a nurse at Lismore Hospital suggests that the main way to fight this growing epidemic is to be conscious of your health, especially your blood pressure.

“After the shocking results of the national report card suggesting up to 70 per cent of Australians are overweight, the number one thing I’d advise is to watch your health at every corner. Keep an eye on your loved ones and those around you and be conscious of your decisions,” she said.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald last month, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that with greater investment from the government, researches can predict and treat the disease more accurately.

“If we want to keep people healthy, and reduce pressure on our clinical services, we have to curb the growing epidemic of cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Heart Foundation