Cairns Private Hospital
Part of Ramsay Health Care


Heart health in the spotlight

May 12, 2022

Several recent heart attacks in high-profile Australians, and heart issues linked with Covid, have raised the profile of heart health, and local specialists are encouraging vigilance.

Cairns Private Hospital cardiologist Dr Chin Lim with cardiac nurse unit manager Claire
Cairns Private Hospital cardiologist Dr Chin Lim with cardiac nurse unit manager Claire

Cairns Private Hospital cardiologist Dr Sam Hillier said recent media reports have made people more aware, so many Aussies are taking cardiac symptoms more seriously – including feelings of indigestion, breathlessness, chest pressure or irregular heart rhythm.

“Most cardiac events happen in low risk people, because they make up most of the population,” he said, adding it is important that individuals are alert for symptoms, and ensure their risk factors are being optimally treated.

Cardiologist Dr Chin Lim, also at Cairns Private Hospital, said Covid-related heart issues could include rhythmic disturbances, and small incidence of heart inflammation. He said while he is expecting to see more Covid-related heart complaints in the long run, for the overwhelming majority of patients the concern is heart disease.

Dr Hillier said people should include heart health checks at their 6 or 12 month GP check ups, which could include cholesterol and blood pressure tests.

“Coronary disease is common – we all have plaque or calcium, which is a build up of cholesterol in our arteries, but is it low or high risk? A calcium scoring test can be useful to assess patients’ 10 year risk of a cardiac event.”

Dr Hillier said a calcium scoring test – available from X-ray providers with a GP referral – is like a CAT scan with minimal radiation that looks for calcium in arteries.

It compares how much a person has relative to other people of their age and gender – and if the score is high, patients should seek a review with a cardiologist, and may need a stress test.

The risk is that plaque breaks off and a clot forms, resulting in a heart attack – yet there is more and more evidence that medications can be just as effective in treatment as stenting, he said.

Helpful lifestyle choices include regular moderate intensity exercise, moderating alcohol intake, and a Mediterranean-style diet including fish, oil on salads, and avoiding red meat.

Dr Lim said other lifestyle choices to help support heart health include avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding too much salt, sugar and processed foods.

Dr Lim said while cardiovascular disease is more common in those aged 40-plus, even younger patients can be impacted if they have a family history. And he is now seeing younger people with Covid-related heart concerns.

“Getting baseline check ups with your local GP – blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar – is so important, and can help nip problems in the bud. And you have to keep being vigilant, as the older you get, the more the risk.”