Australians urged to request stethoscope heart checks from their GPs

More than 250,000 people are estimated to be living with undiagnosed heart valve disease.

 

 

This national Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week (21st–27thFebruary 2022), hearts4heart is urging Australians over the age of 60 to ask their General Practitioner (GP) for a stethoscope heart check.

 

Heart valve disease is a common, serious, but treatable condition if identified early. It can be diagnosed by doing a simple stethoscope heart check.

 

Though due to a stethoscope check not being included in the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) heart health assessment, it is up to the patient to request one. With so many patients being unaware of this, 90 per cent of those suffering from aortic stenosis currently do not make it to treatment. Signs of heart valve disease are easily identifiable by a clinician doing a physical examination. Heart valve lesions have a characteristic murmur that can be heard with a stethoscope, which is why including this in routine heart health checks is so important.

 

Aortic stenosis is one of the most serious, yet most common types of heart valve disease in Australia, with a huge 1 in 8 people aged over 75 affected by the disease. While aortic stenosis can be easily diagnosed through a heart check with a stethoscope during a GP visit, a stethoscope check is not currently included in the MBS item for a heart health assessment, therefore it is not offered to patients voluntarily.

 

According to recent data, 53 per cent of GPs say they are not checking a patient’s heart at all unless they ask for it. Of the GPs that are offering heart checks to their patients, very few are offering a stethoscope check. Some GPs admitted they are not aware of the symptoms associated with heart valve disease, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat.

 

Professor Tom Marwick, Cardiologist at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, said:“Heart valve disease is common, serious and treatable. The first step to diagnosis is recognising that exercise intolerance may not just be due to ageing. If you cannot do what you could do last year, see your doctor, and ask them to listen to your heart.

 

“The heart check is currently being under-utilised across the country. With a minor MBS change such as including a stethoscope check, it could be used to support GPs in the diagnosis of many at-risk Australians with heart valve disease, particularly older people, as cardiac risk increases with age.’’

 

“GPs are doing their utmost for at-risk patients, and this change to the MBS would enable them to do even more in supporting their patients and diagnosing heart valve disease.”

 

More than half a million Australians were living with heart valve disease in 2021, with an estimated 254,000people currently living with the disease undiagnosed. Time is the most significant barrier that prevents elderly patients over the age of 65 having routine stethoscope checks of their heart.

 

Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute,said: “Too many Australians are unaware of heart valve disease, which if left untreated can lead to heart failure and even death. It’s incredibly important to be alert for the symptoms, which can range from palpitations to shortness of breath.’’

 

He continued: “Talk to your GP to get your heart checked thoroughly, including a stethoscope check. Whilst a diagnosis of heart valve disease can be confronting, the good news is that in most cases it can be treated very successfully.”

 

Heart valve disease symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty when exercising
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • A rapid/irregular heartbeat.

 

This Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week, heart4heart is encouraging Australians aged over the age of 60 to request a stethoscope heart check when visiting their GP. Aortic stenosis gets progressively worse over time, and without treatment, patients with severe symptoms only have a 50per cent chance of survival within the next two years. Early detection of this disease is key.

 

Chief Executive Officer of hearts4heart, Tanya Hall, concluded: “We’re urging everyone over 60 to become aware of their heart health, and to ask their GP for a simple stethoscope heart check. Early detection is so important for heart valve disease, and when identified early, it is a treatable condition.”

 

For more information,go to https://www.hearts4heart.org.au/

 

See also - Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Our Hidden Ageing: Time to listen to the heart 2021 at https://baker.edu.au/impact/advocacy/valve-disease

 

22 February 2022.