One-in-five Australians aged over 55 years has at least a 30 percent likelihood of suffering a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke in the next five years, according to findings from a key study that looks at the level of cardiovascular risk in the Australian population.1
Called ‘Generation Risk’, the report by Access Economics rates cardiovascular risk in Australians aged 55 or over on a scale similar to the one used for bushfire warnings, based on an accumulation of risk factors such as high blood pressure, being overweight or smoking.
"We are seeing an unprecedented level of heart attack and stroke risk within the ageing community, a group we are now calling ‘Generation Risk’," said Dr Greg Conner, Cardiologist, Cardiovascular Diagnostic Services and an expert adviser on the ‘Generation Risk’ Report.
The report reveals that almost half of all Australians aged 55 or older fall into the high risk end of the scale, facing at least a 15 percent chance of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.1
Of these, more than 1.1 million (or 44 percent) are considered to be at ‘extreme’ risk, meaning they face at least a 30 percent risk of an event within five years.1 This figure is projected to increase significantly in the coming years as the population ages.1
The most common contributors to this risk include physical inactivity, being overweight or obese, or having high blood pressure or high cholesterol – which each affect more than half of all older Australians.1
"Our goal must be to prevent this significant proportion of the Australian population from sliding past the red zone of the cardiovascular risk scale and suffering a ‘catastrophic’ heart attack or stroke," said Dr Conner.
"Where there is smoke, there will eventually be fire unless people make the necessary lifestyle modifications and, in many cases, undergo life-long therapy to prevent a heart attack or stroke," he said.
"Lifestyle changes are important and medications for conditions such as high blood pressure can reduce an individual’s risk of heart attack or stroke but are grossly under-utilised in the long term," said Professor Murray Esler, Cardiologist, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and an expert adviser on the report.
"The report shows that one-in-five people stop taking blood pressure medications after just one month and 80 percent stop taking these medications after 30 months.
"The analysis revealed that the risk of a ‘catastrophic’ cardiovascular event could be reduced by up to 22 percent if these patients continued with therapy," said Professor Esler.
According to Lynne Pezzullo, Director, Access Economics, population growth and ageing will significantly increase the level of cardiovascular risk in the community over the next 20 years.
"Cardiovascular disease will this year claim the lives of 17,000 Australians over the age of 55, making it the leading cause of death in this group today and for many years to come," Ms Pezzullo said.
"Over-55s now represent one quarter of the Australian population and, with population ageing, this will only increase, bringing with it a dramatic rise in the level of cardiovascular risk.
"The more risk factors affecting an individual, the higher their heart attack and stroke risk; and most of these risk factors become common as we age," Ms Pezzullo said.
Tony Arvidsson, National Vice-President, Heart Support Australia, explained that many Australians fail to recognise the importance of managing their risk factors until it is too late.
"We deal with heart attack survivors on a daily basis and the one thing many of them have in common is a wish that they had done more to prevent it, whether by losing some extra weight, quitting smoking or sticking to their medication," said Mr Arvidsson.
The report also found that among Australians aged 55 years or more:1
- Almost one-in-seven (14 percent) has already suffered a heart attack or stroke;
- More than 70,000 will suffer a heart attack or stroke this year alone. Of these, more than 17,000 will prove fatal; and the remaining 53,000 will leave survivors with a significantly increased risk of a repeat event in the future;
- Men are almost twice as likely as women to be at ‘high’, ‘very high’, ‘severe’ or ‘extreme’ risk of a heart attack or stroke; and are more likely to have already suffered a cardiovascular event; and
- Adherence to medication to reduce cardiovascular risk is poor. Around 80 percent of people prescribed medication to manage high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke,2 cease therapy within two-and-a-half years, potentially leaving them at significant risk of an event.
‘Generation Risk’: An Analysis of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among Australia’s Older Population was developed by Access Economics for Boehringer Ingelheim, with input from leading medical experts and Heart Support Australia.
- Access Economics. Generation Risk: An Analysis of Cardiovascular Disease Risk among Australia’s Older Population. 2010.
- National Stroke Foundation. High Blood Pressure and Stroke. 2009.