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Heart disease, the silent killer

February marks heart research month, during which Heart Research Australia is focussing on raising awareness about the impact of heart disease and the need for ongoing research.

According to the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Coronary heart disease or heart disease:

  • affects around 1.2 million Australians
  • is the single leading cause of death in Australia
  • claimed the lives of 20,173 Australians (13% of all deaths) in 2014
  • kills one Australian every 26 minutes.
Heart disease is largely preventable. Death from heart disease is also largely preventable.

Awareness and recognition of the risk factors a patient has - by both the patient and their GP/health care provider - is a crucial first step in prevention of heart disease.Only then can steps be taken to eliminate or minimise exposure to the risk factors.

This is best achieved by the patient working in conjunction with their GP/health care provider.  A good GP should screen regular patients for risk factors, and identify and educate the patient as to what can be done to minimise these risk factors. The earlier this is done the better. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a "gap" between what is being done in medical practice and what is recommended to be done by organisations such as the Heart Foundation and Heart Research Australia.

Our Medical Negligence team regularly represent individuals who, sadly, are suffering from avoidable cardiac injury or have lost loved ones due to heart disease.  Heart disease can be extremely disabling, as the body relies on the heart to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.

When the heart muscle is damaged, the ability of the heart to supply the body’s needs is compromised. This can severely impair an individual’s ability to carry out even basic daily activities and to engage in employment. If cardiac injuries arise from a medical error, under the law of negligence, a person may be able to claim compensation.

Risk factors

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol and smoking. Nine in 10 adult Australians have at least one risk factor for Cardio vascular disease and one in four (25%) have three or more risk factors.

Below are some of the statistics on risk factors:

Clinical risk factors

  • In 2014/15, 6 million adult Australians (34%) aged 18 years and over had high blood pressure (systolic or diastolic blood pressure is equal to or greater than 140/90 mmHg or taking medication).
  • In 2011/12, one third of adult Australians aged 18 years and over had measured high cholesterol. This represents 5.6 million adult Australians.

Lifestyle risk factors

  • Smoking is the single most important cause of ill health and death in Australia. In 2011/12, one in seven Australians aged 15 years and over smoked daily.
  • In 2014/15, close to two in every three (63%) adult Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese, with 27.5% obese and 36% overweight.
  • In 2014/15, more two in every three (66%) of adult Australians aged over 15 do very little or no exercise at all.
Genetics also play a part. It is well recognised that a family history of heart disease can predispose individuals to a higher risk of developing the disease.


There are a wide variety of investigations and tests that can be performed by health care providers to assess whether a patient is suffering from heart disease, or other cardiac abnormalities.

Technology has surged ahead in leaps and bounds in the last ten years, particularly in the area of non-invasive imaging. For example, computed tomography coronary angiography (CTCA) has come into widespread usage over the last ten years or so, and has been shown in various trials to be reliable in ruling out significant coronary artery disease.

CTCA is a relatively non-invasive procedure, and may be used to identify patients with significant risk factors, as well as those who have symptoms that require investigation. Other common tests and investigations include blood tests, chest x-rays, a coronary angiogram, ECG, EEG, exercise stress tests, and echocardiogram.

If you or a loved one are concerned about your risk factors, or are suffering from signs or symptoms that you are concerned about, it is wise to consult your medical practitioner at the earliest opportunity to avoid or minimise damage being done.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 7, 2017.

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