The Heart Foundation is pleading with people at risk of heart disease not to skip critical check-ups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call comes on the back of research revealing that many of the people most at risk are likely to be the ones putting off critical check-ups because of fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
A survey of more than 5000 Australian adults found that people with heart disease, or at a high risk of heart disease, were more likely to miss or delay an appointment with their GP between April and August than other Australians (27 per cent versus 17 per cent).
With 2.1 million Australians living with heart disease, or at high risk of heart disease, the Heart Foundation has calculated more than 500,000 of these patients are skipping potentially life-saving check-ups or ongoing management of their condition during the pandemic.
The survey also suggests that the situation may yet worsen with about one in five people at highest risk saying that they are unlikely to attend future appointments with their GP due to concerns about the risks of COVID-19.
While people with heart disease are more vulnerable to experiencing severe complications if infected with the virus, the Heart Foundation’s general manager of heart health, Bill Stavreski, urged Australians not to let COVID infection fears stop them from seeking care for their heart conditions.
“Heart disease doesn’t stop during a pandemic. It’s alarming to see the people who most need to stay in touch with their doctor are the ones missing out,” Mr Stavreski said.
“Australians are understandably worried about COVID-19, but looking after our hearts has never been more important. It is vital that you continue to monitor your heart health and stay in contact with your GP, and there are options to do this safely via telehealth or in person.
“We’re concerned about the implications of this neglect for the future heart health of Australians. We don’t want to see a stalling of the progress we have made in lowering heart disease death rates.”
Even though most states and territories around Australia began easing restrictions as the spread of COVID-19 was contained, the number of people skipping check-ups remained high.
In August, about 30 per cent of people with heart disease surveyed said that they were avoiding GP appointments.
The Heart Foundation also explained that fewer people were speaking to doctors about risk factors and heart health generally compared with pre-COVID-19 levels.
The biggest dip was in people discussing their blood pressure or cholesterol with their GP, despite millions of Australians having high blood pressure (6.2 million) and high cholesterol (7.1 million).
“Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked is an essential part of managing your risk of heart disease, so we would urge Australians not to put it off any longer,” Mr Stavreski said.
“Heart disease is still the nation’s single biggest killer, but it’s fallen off the radar for many Australians.”
An estimated 1.2 million (6 per cent) of Australian adults aged 18 and over had one or more conditions related to heart or vascular disease, including stroke, in 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey.
Are you at a high risk of heart disease? Have you delayed or cancelled heart check-ups with your GP due to fear about the coronavirus?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.