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A Time Bomb in Your Chest?

September 3, 2008

By LYNDSAY MOSS HEALTH CORRESPONDENT

ALMOST four million people in the UK are unaware they have a high risk of developing heart disease, a major new study has found.

Researchers said one in three people who were most at risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) over the next ten years had not yet been diagnosed.

The findings were based on tests on more than 71,000 people aged 18 and over who were screened in 35 towns and cities across Scotland, England and Wales.

The results, published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, suggest that 7.9 million people have already been diagnosed with CVD or have a medically recognised risk of developing the disease.

But the researchers, from Oxford University, estimated there were a further 2.8 million men and 900,000 women who face a high risk but have not been diagnosed.

This means that they have not received the treatment and advice that could prevent them from developing CVD.

Treatment can include drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, while diet and exercise advice can ward off heart disease. Those most likely to miss being diagnosed with a high risk were middle-aged men.

In Scotland, it has been suggested that over-40s could be offered health checks to tackle issues such as heart risks.

The SNP’s manifesto last year pledged to introduce the “Life Begins” checks and individual health plans for all men and women when they hit 40.

This promise was repeated in a “Better Health, Better Care” action plan in December.

A similar initiative has also been pledged south of the Border. However, doctors have questioned whether they have the time or resources to carry out such a scheme.

But the new research, which included volunteers in Edinburgh and Glasgow, will increase pressure for widespread health checks to be introduced.

Lead author Professor Andrew Neil said the findings reinforced the need for CVD risk assessments. “Our research found 75 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women who were over 50 already had CVD or diabetes, were taking cholesterol or blood-pressure drugs or were at high risk of developing CVD,” he said.

“We were reassured to discover that 60 per cent of them had already been identified. The challenge now is to identify the other 40 per cent who are at high risk of developing the disease but remain undiagnosed.”

The research was carried out at public events in towns and cities around the UK, with volunteers attending mobile centres for blood tests and waist measurements. The information was then used to calculate the ten-year risk of CVD. Those found to be at high risk were advised to see their GP and take the results of the screening with them.

Judy O’Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study shows that many people don’t know they are at high risk of heart disease and aren’t doing anything to lower it. It is a great shame as heart disease is largely preventable through lifestyle changes and drug therapy.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is important to understand people’s risk of developing CVD so they can be offered advice and treatment at the earliest opportunity.”

MORE INFO www.blackwellpublishing.com/ijcp

IN NUMBERS

7.9m The number of people in the UK estimated to have cardiovascular disease (CVD) – an umbrella term for all diseases of the heart and circulation, including heart disease and stroke – or already known to be at high risk

33 per cent People at high risk of CVD in the next ten years, but not yet diagnosed

40 Age at which Scots may in future be offered routine general health checks

36 per cent Percentage of all death in the UK caused by heart and circulatory diseases

275 Number of deaths every day in the UK from heart disease

2.6m People are living with heart disease in the UK

8.4 per cent The all in heart disease death rate among under- 75s in Scotland between 2005 and 2006

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