A world-first study involving more than 2800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has found significant numbers are at high risk of heart attack or stroke, that risk increases substantially with age and starts earlier than previously thought.
Professor Emily Banks from the ANU Research School of Population Health said the research shows around one-third to a half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their 40s, 50s and 60s are 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," Professor Banks said.
Vicki Wade, an Aboriginal expert on cardiovascular health and person living with heart disease urges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have their heart checked.
"I had a health check at my local doctors who sent me off to the cardiologist. I had an angiogram that showed heart disease. I feel I am one of the lucky ones as I have no damage to my heart. I had heart disease and I didn't even know. Now I know I can do something about it".
Professor Banks said of concern is the finding that most people at high risk were not receiving recommended treatment.
"Most heart attacks and strokes are preventable and we can do so much more to improve heart health for First Australians. This new evidence shows the huge potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working together with health professionals and policy makers to guide best practice heart health screening and treatment."
"We are working with communities and health professionals to support more health checks and guideline developers to incorporate it into best-practice care," Professor Banks said.
Co-author of the study Associate Professor Ray Lovett said health care providers need to prioritise heart health.
"Our mob know that heart health is a big issue for us. This research gives us the knowledge to ask our health care provider to assess and help us manage our heart health," Associate Professor Lovett said.
National Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor Professor Garry Jennings said the new evidence will help improve heart health screening guidelines.
"Many people at high risk aren't aware of it and are missing out on preventing future heart attacks and strokes. This new evidence will help us improve our heart health screening guidelines," Professor Jennings said.
"We can all improve heart health by stopping smoking and through good management of blood pressure and cholesterol. Making these changes works fast in reducing the risk of a heart attack and stroke, so it is never too late to make changes."
The project received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and National Heart Foundation of Australia Partnership Project.
The research was published in Medical Journal Australia on 25 June 2018.