MORE than 100,000 Australians are at risk of death or stroke over the next five years, because they are missing out on medicines needed to manage their risk of heart attack.
The Heart Foundation says this "tsunami" of heart and stroke hospitalisations - a predicted 103,137 over five years - could be prevented if all Australians at high risk were on the right drugs.
It said an estimated 1.8 million adults are missing out on medicines needed to manage their risk of a heart attack or stroke.
In a new report the Heart Foundation claims treating all high-risk patients with the recommended blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medicines would save almost $1.8 billion in healthcare, and over those five years the population would gain an extra 45,580 years lived in good health.
Heart Foundation chief executive, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, said this figure is alarming given the huge physical, emotional and financial toll of heart attacks and strokes.
"If we could close this treatment gap and prevent 103,000 heart events in the next five years, that's preventing 103,000 families' lives from potentially being devastated," Professor Kelly said.
"All high-risk patients should be getting the right support and ongoing care they need to avoid becoming a heart disease statistic, but that's simply not happening."
He said the costs of detecting, managing and treating patients at high risk, the net benefit in healthcare savings alone would be $130 million.
Millions of Australians have high blood pressure (6.2 million) and high cholesterol (7.1 million). These conditions are known as 'silent killers' because there are often no obvious signs or symptoms, yet they are among the biggest contributors to our heart disease epidemic.
Blood pressure and cholesterol are among the risk factors GPs monitor and manage as part of heart health checks, which were introduced as temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule items in 2019.
The Heart Foundation is calling for heart health checks to be covered by Medicare permanently.
"Making heart health checks permanent will ensure Australians at risk of heart and vascular diseases are detected early and managed appropriately; helping people live longer, healthier lives and slashing ongoing costs to the health system," Professor Kelly said.
This Heart Week, May 3-9, the Heart Foundation is urging eligible Australians not to delay making that potentially life-saving GP appointment.
"The reality is that if you survive a heart attack, the shock and stress of the event and your recovery will affect you and your loved ones significantly. Many heart attack survivors don't return to their full earning capacity, and some can't go back to work at all," Professor Kelly said.
"Despite this, too many Australians are missing out on checks they need to protect their hearts, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when we've seen a worrying trend of people with or at high risk of heart disease skipping appointments.
"If you're 45 and over, or from 30 if you're Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the best chance of reducing your risk starts with seeing your GP for a heart health check. And if you're living with heart disease, keeping in touch with your doctor has never been more important."