Each year, 55,000 Australians suffer a heart attack according to the National Heart Foundation.
But what if you could know about a potential problem with your heart ahead of time – and have a plan in place to deal with it?
Hobart-based cardiologist Dr Warrick Bishop says we can – and we have the technology to do it.
He’s written a book called ‘Have You Planned Your Heart Attack?’ that advocates the use of CT (computed tomography) scans to detect any problems with your coronary arteries – well before an event happens.
Yes, it will cost you money – $300 to $500 we are told – but as Dr Bishop points out, we spend $1,000 a year checking our car out, but only 1,300 people die on the roads every year.
Why does he recommend CT?
Relying on data, not the individual
At the moment, doctors work out people’s risk of a coronary event based on population characteristics, such as age, sex, cholesterol levels and chronic diseases.
Dr Bishop uses the example of a 50-year-old-man with no history of heart disease. “Historically we’ve said to him the risk is 5 per cent and ‘look after yourself and see you in a couple of years’,” he says.
But if you took the man and scanned his heart, you would know for sure if he was likely to be one of the five per cent to have a heart attack.
While there are no guidelines for CT scans being used routinely, Dr Bishop compares them to using a parachute – there’s a lack of data to support their use, but people still rely on them anyway.
Putting a price on your health
The scans are not cheap and only patients who have experienced chest pain usually attract a Medicare rebate. Dr Bishop carries out CT scans in two stages – the first around $300 to $400 – and the second, if the first is not clear, from $400 to $500.
Dr Bishop says having a scan gives you real data, not estimations, and it allows you to set up a strategy to manage your health.
For example, a 50-year-old woman with a family history of heart problems could learn whether she is in the 90th percentile for a heart attack – and put a plan in place to protect herself – or find out she’s in the bottom 25th percentile – and be reassured.
Dr Bishop says even if you don’t have a scan, just having more conversations about your cardiovascular risk is important. We have to agree.
‘Have You Planned Your Heart Attack?’ is available now. Find out more here.