The Heart Foundation has launched a new online tool designed to raise awareness of heart disease by helping consumers work out their 'heart age'.
The calculator has been developed with support from Amgen. The launch coincides with a national campaign to drive greater awareness of heart disease as Australia’s leading cause of death.
According to the Heart Foundation, the calculator is a motivational tool designed to focus the consumer’s attention on heart health and help them understand their personal risk for heart attack or stroke.
It is designed for people aged between 35 and 75 years who do not have a known history of heart conditions and encourages those with a higher heart age to take steps to reduce their risks.
Consumers input their risk factors into the calculator. These include age, sex, smoking and diabetes status, Body Mass Index, cholesterol levels, blood pressure levels and if they take medication, and whether there is an immediate family history of heart attack/stroke before the age of 60. The calculator then estimates their heart age at above, below or equal to their actual age.
If a person’s heart age exceeds their actual age, the calculator prompts people to see their doctor for a heart health check (Absolute CVD risk assessment). While the Heart Age calculator is designed for consumers, the Heart Foundation said it recommends doctors use the Absolute CVD risk assessment tool (http://www.cvdcheck.org.au/) to complete a heart health check. As the calculator is not a clinical tool, it does not replace the need for consumers to visit their doctor for a heart health check.
Heart Foundation chief medical adviser, Professor Garry Jennings, said, “If a person’s heart age is higher than their actual age, they are at an increased risk of heart attack or stroke in the next five years.
“A person’s heart age may be above their actual age if they have multiple risk factors including high blood pressure (above 140/90), total cholesterol above 5.5, HDL cholesterol level below 1, or if they currently smoke or have diabetes. It is these risk factors that will determine whether heart age is higher or lower than your actual age.
“There are limitations in that the calculator does not consider everything that can be related to risk of heart disease including a person’s ethnicity or other heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation. These issues would be considered during an absolute CVD risk assessment (heart health check) with a doctor.
“Overseas experience, however, has shown that use of a heart age tool is an effective way to raise personal awareness of heart disease risks,” he said.
The Heart Foundation said it recommends all people aged 45 years and over (35 years and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) should get a heart health check at least every two years or more frequently as advised by their doctor or health professional.
The new calculator uses an algorithm to calculate the probability of a cardiovascular event occurring in the next five years that considers several risk factors. The algorithm is based on a multivariable known as the Framingham Risk Function and incorporates Australian guidelines for people considered at an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
“We know that 1.4 million Australians are at high risk of having a heart attack or a stroke in the next five years, with more than half (800,000) aged between 45 and 74. Yet our research found on average, GPs conduct absolute CVD risk assessments with only 64 per cent of their patients aged 45 to 75 years,” said Professor Jennings.
“Heart Foundation research shows the economic cost of heart attack and unstable angina to the economy is $6.76 billion, with the cost to government $1.93 billion. Additionally, the cost to individuals and families is a significant $4.83 billion.
“The economic, social and personal costs of heart attack and stroke underpin the Heart Foundation’s advocacy to the Federal Government for funds to update and revise the 2012 Absolute Risk guidelines and to incentivise health professionals to complete Absolute Cardiovascular Risk Assessments as part of clinical practice.
“As a member of the National Vascular Disease Prevention coalition, the Heart Foundation continues to work with professional bodies like RACGP to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Australia.”