Why healthy adults need heart health checks

Len’s story and early warning signs of heart disease

It was while playing on the lawn with his two young grandchildren when Len finally admitted something wasn’t right with his heart health.

“I had to stop and catch my breath, I couldn’t even keep up with the little three-and-a-half-year-old,” says Len, 69.

After dismissing feelings of ill-health and tiredness as symptoms of stress for several years, Len could no longer ignore what his body was trying to tell him.

Len was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. “If I’d continued on playing with the kids, I could have fallen down in front of them with a heart attack,” says Len, who admits he was in a state of disbelief when his doctors gave him the news. “I wish I’d gone three or four years ago, but it was easy to say I was just tired.”

Coronary artery disease, or heart disease can develop slowly over time with no symptoms. By the time seemingly minor indicators – such as fatigue or shortness of breath – start to appear, the condition is usually advanced.

Being aware of the early indicators of heart problems can help healthy adults get ahead of heart disease.

Len’s story and early warning signs of heart disease

It was while playing on the lawn with his two young grandchildren when Len finally admitted something wasn’t right with his heart health.

“I had to stop and catch my breath, I couldn’t even keep up with the little three-and-a-half-year-old,” says Len, 69.

After dismissing feelings of ill-health and tiredness as symptoms of stress for several years, Len could no longer ignore what his body was trying to tell him.

Len was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. “If I’d continued on playing with the kids, I could have fallen down in front of them with a heart attack,” says Len, who admits he was in a state of disbelief when his doctors gave him the news. “I wish I’d gone three or four years ago, but it was easy to say I was just tired.”

Coronary artery disease, or heart disease can develop slowly over time with no symptoms. By the time seemingly minor indicators – such as fatigue or shortness of breath – start to appear, the condition is usually advanced.

Being aware of the early indicators of heart problems can help healthy adults get ahead of heart disease.

Len's Story

Advara HeartCare

Why healthy adults need heart health checks

Heart disease in Australia

Coronary artery disease (CAD) impacts more than half a million Australians every year and is the most common cause of death among men and women.1,2

Heart disease doesn’t always present with symptoms. This means it’s important to keep track of your heart health, even if you have few or none of the primary risk factors.

Which risk factors put healthy adults at risk of heart disease?

Heart disease can impact anyone, but some factors can increase your risks, even when you look and feel perfectly healthy. These include, but are not limited to3:

  • Family history
  • Ethnicity
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Weight

Some people are more at risk of developing heart disease than others. Knowing what your risk factors are can provide insight into your heart health.

Early warning signs of heart disease

Early warning signs of heart disease

Until it is advanced, heart disease can be present with no obvious symptoms. However, like Len experienced, there can be some early warning signs. It’s important not to dismiss these indicators as everyday stress or harmless niggles.

There are several early indicators of heart disease. These can include but are not limited to:

Chest pain

Tightness or pain in the chest can be a symptom of heart disease, but it can be mistakenly self-diagnosed as a pulled muscle, over exertion during exercise or even a stitch.4

Fatigue

Most healthy adults will admit to feeling tired occasionally. Active work and social lives mean many of us feel sleepy or lacking in energy at times, but this can also be a sign that our heart is struggling.5

Breathlessness

While it’s normal to feel out of breath after or during high-intensity exercise, breathlessness can also indicate the presence of heart disease, particularly when it occurs quickly or continues for longer than is usual.5  

It is also important to look out for breathlessness that is continuing to get worse.

Feeling light-headed or fainting

A drop in blood pressure caused by standing or sitting for too long, or perhaps not eating enough, can sometimes cause feelings of dizziness. But these symptoms are also early indicators that heart disease may be present.5

Indigestion or stomach issues

While many benign conditions can cause stomach issues, heart disease can also trigger pain in the gut and upper stomach that can feel like indigestion.6

Why should seemingly healthy adults still be tested for heart disease?

Happy Senior Old Retired Couple Walking Holding Hands on Beach at Sunset

Adults with few or no risk factors and zero symptoms can still have heart disease. That is why it is so important to be proactive about our heart health, even when we are feeling well.

Just like dental checks which can identify issues and risks early, heart health checks can detect heart disease in its very early stages.

Some ways to be proactive about heart health include:

Heart health check

Healthy adults over the age of 45–or 30 and over for First Nations people– can ask their GP for a heart health check.7 This is a check-up with your GP to assess your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. As part of the check, your doctor will ask you some questions about lifestyle and family history. A heart health check doesn’t take too long and includes checking your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

Calcium Score Scans

Calcium scores—in addition to clinical risk assessments—can be a useful way for GPs to assess your heart health.

Your GP will assess your suitability for a calcium score scan (also known as a coronary artery calcium score test) and if you are suitable, refer you to a provider who will conduct the scan. This scan highlights the amount of calcium buildup in the arteries and can indicate if you have early heart disease before any obvious signs or symptoms occur.

The lower the score, the lower the risk of having a cardiovascular event.

Learn more about calcium score testing.

Why are heart health checks so important?

Early detection of heart disease is crucial for long-term health outcomes. The sooner heart disease is detected, the faster treatment can begin. Doctors can also provide advice, guidance and support around lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risks of the disease developing.

As Len discovered, heart disease can present with symptoms that are easy to dismiss, but early detection of heart disease is crucial.

Young doctor on a house call

How do I find out more about my heart health?

Speak to your GP today about how you can get ahead of heart disease.

Contact

Useful links

Heart disease tests

The importance of early investigation into your heart health.

The different types of heart disease

How to promote good heart health through diet

This information is of a general nature. If you are concerned about your heart health, speak with your local doctor.

References

  1. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/heart-stroke-vascular-disease/hsvd-facts/contents/all-heart-stroke-and-vascular-disease/coronary-heart-disease
  2. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/coronary-heart-disease-and-atherosclerosis#:~:text=coronary%20heart%20disease%3F-,Coronary%20heart%20disease%20is%20a%20chronic%20(long%2Dlasting)%20disease,and%20it%20cannot%20be%20cured
  3. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-health-education/heart-health-checks
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm#:~:text=Angina%2C%20or%20chest%20pain%20and,the%20rest%20of%20your%20body
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/#:~:text=Symptoms%20of%20heart%20failure&text=breathlessness%20after%20activity%20or%20at,swollen%20ankles%20and%20legs
  6. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/11-signs-you-might-have-heart-disease#:~:text=3.,attack%20or%20related%20heart%20problem.
  7. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-health-education/heart-health-checks