The sudden death of cricket legend Shane Warne has prompted one of Australia’s top medical experts to reveal his own heart problems – and tell others to get urgently checked by a doctor.
Nick Coatsworth, the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, on Tuesday urged anyone over the age of 45 to see their doctor for a heart health risk assessment.
Dr Coatsworth said he was diagnosed himself with high blood pressure in the past two years and had started taking medication to manage the issue.
‘I suffer from high blood pressure in the family. I suffer from it myself. When I got checked out two years ago, just before Covid, it was really high,’ he told the Today show.
His admission comes as Warne’s death at the age of 52 from a suspected heart attack led to renewed discussion about the number of Australians who have missed out on heart health checks during the pandemic.
Labor senator Kimberley Kitching died at the same age from a suspected heart attack just six days later, while ex-AFL player Dean Wallis, also 52, survived a heart attack on March 12 and underwent emergency surgery.
Dr Coatsworth said Australians of all ages should get checked out if they are feeling shortness of breath going up the stairs or chest pain while exercising.
But he added the risk was particularly acute for those over the age of 45, or who are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background and over 30.
‘The GPs have an online calculator, a risk calculator, to help them make that assessment, and decide whether you need to go on to see a cardiologist,’ he said.
‘It’s really important to note your family history – so if you’ve got a history of heart attacks with people in your family in their 40s and early 50s, that’s a warning sign.’
He said he hoped the recent high-profile deaths from heart attacks would prompt more Australians to take care of their heart.
‘If you haven’t exercised for years, don’t go out and play a game of hockey like me,’ he said.
That can actually increase your heart risk to be honest. So a gentle improvement in your exercise, diet and weight modification would be the top three things for me.’
New figures from the Heart Foundation showed 27,000 heart health checks were missed or delayed because of Covid-19‘s effect on the medical system.
The foundation’s research found there will be 350 heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths over the next five years due to delayed or missed heart checks.
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser and interim chief executive Garry Jennings said delays in people having their risk assessed could be fatal.
‘People have been reluctant to seek routine medical attention during the pandemic and that includes having preventive health checks like a heart health check. This could have serious and even fatal consequences,’ Professor Jennings said.
A tale of three 52-year-olds and their heart attacks
Shane Warne: The cricketing legend died from a heart attack while on holiday in Thailand on March 4.
Kimberley Kitching: A Labor Senator for Victoria, she had a heart attack and dies on March 10.
Dean Wallis: The former Essendon player suffered a heart attack on March 12, but survived and had emergency surgery.
All three were aged 52.
‘Fewer people having a heart health check means that risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are generally silent or symptom free, go undiagnosed and potentially worsen, increasing people’s risk of a heart event in the future.’
Professor Jennings said a drop in heart health screening, coupled with the pandemic, could create a dangerous situation.
‘Having a heart health check gives you the best chance of preventing a heart attack or stroke. It’s a simple, painless check-up with your GP that could save your life.’
The Heart Foundation’s study found that states least affected by the pandemic, including Western Australia and Queensland, had the highest rates of screening, averaging 30 heart health checks per 1,000 eligible adults, well above the national average of 25 checks per 1,000 adults.
Lockdowns, along with the resource-intensive roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination and booster programs in GP practices, were linked to dramatic drops of up to 40 per cent in people having the check across the country.