Heart health slumps post-pandemic

3 minute read

Almost 50% of Aussies are failing at least one component of their checkups, which may account for some of the excess deaths seen last year.

You can add heart disease to the list of chronic health issues exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, as new figures show a doubling in the proportion of Australians with unhealthy blood pressure.  

The data comes from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, which operates a mobile heart health testing service across the country. 

According to the Institute, the number of people returning an abnormal result for at least one test out of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol has risen by 42% since March 2020.  

Of the 6100 people tested from March 2020 onward, 47% returned an out-of-healthy-range result for blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol. Pre-pandemic, just one in three people returned an out-of-healthy-range result for at least one of the three tests. 

All told, 8% were out-of-healthy-range for blood pressure, 29.7% were for cholesterol and 8% were for blood sugar.  

These averages were based on the results from 76,300 people taken in the nine years pre-covid.  

Blood pressure was the biggest area of growth, with 15% of the post-pandemic participants having an out-of-healthy-range result, and blood sugar saw a more modest rise to 10.5%. 

Unhealthy cholesterol remained the most common finding and was present in 32.4% of the people tested post-pandemic. 

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute executive director Professor Jason Kovacic said the pandemic had changed people’s lifestyles. 

“People were not exercising as much, not even moving as much,” he told The Medical Republic.  

“We’ve all heard about the covid kilos that people have put on, and there’s also the covid virus itself, which causes people to be sick and not exercising.” 

What makes the data more interesting, Professor Kovacic said, is that there were 16,000 excess deaths in the first half of 2022. 

“Some of those are attributable directly due to covid-19, but some of them were from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other causes that are potentially all linked into what we’re observing in our heart check booth,” he said.  

“Rates of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose are higher in the community now than they’ve ever been.” 

Going forward, the cardiologist said he would like to see heart health checks treated the same as pap smears and prostate screenings.  

“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in our society, so we really need to be vigilant … [on] blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, weight, exercise and smoking.”  

According to Professor Kovacic, the current suite of medicines available to manage the three big markers for heart disease – blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol – all have an “exceptionally good” side-effect profile.  

“There can be no reason that people aren’t aggressively treated to normal healthy ranges for those three things,” he said.  

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