Check your heart: The death of two champs has sparked health call

The sudden deaths of Australian cricketing heroes Shane Warne and Rod Marsh have shone a much-needed spotlight on heart health.

The world has reacted in disbelief to the death of legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne from a suspected heart attack in a Thai villa at age 52.

News of his death came less than 24 hours after the fatal heart attack of fellow Aussie Test great Rod Marsh, 74.

The tragic losses have many people thinking “could I be next?”

Experts like Dr Linda Worrall-Carter, founder and CEO of Her Heart and preventative cardiologist, Dr Warrick Bishop, are frustrated it’s taken the sports icon’s deaths to draw attention to a disease that is Australia’s biggest killer, yet is 80 per cent preventable.

“Both Shane and Rod still had a lot of life to live and so much to give but in Australia someone dies every 12 minutes from cardiovascular disease,” Dr Bishop says.

“That’s 118 people a day, with 25 per cent being under the age of 65.

“We really need to change from our tow-truck approach to being proactive if we want to reduce these numbers.”

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women

More than two-thirds of Australians have three or more risk factors for heart disease.

While it affects both sexes, it often goes undetected in women.

“It kills one in three women, one every hour, which is more women than all cancers combined,” Dr Worrall-Carter says.

“Over 90 per cent of women have at least one risk factor which can lead to heart disease and many have two or three.”

Dr Worrall-Carter warns it’s not just older women who’re at risk.

“Research shows that heart disease in women between the ages of 35-54 is increasing, but women in this age group don’t see themselves at risk.

“They’re focused on preventative health for breast or cervical cancer but are unaware what can be done for heart disease.”

Heart disease can affect anyone, even if you’re fit

“A lot of people think — it won’t affect me, I exercise and eat well, it will happen to someone else,” Dr Bishop says.

“All too often it’s the people you least expect who fall victim – the super fit, the healthy and younger people.”

It’s a topic former Ironman surf lifesaving champion and defibrillator campaigner, Guy Leech, knows from first-hand experience, having lost a training buddy to cardiac arrest six years ago.

Guy was on the same flight to Bundaberg in Queensland as Rod Marsh, when the cricket legend suffered a heart attack in the car on the way to the hotel.

“I keep asking myself what the outcome could have been if he had stayed with us at the terminal – I even had a defibrillator in my baggage,” Guy says.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Dr Bishop says while some factors, such as age, gender and genetics, are beyond our control, many others aren’t.

Risk factors include:

What are the signs you may have a heart problem?

While no two heart attacks are the same, common symptoms are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath.

It’s important to note the symptoms women experience can be different to men.

Dr Worrall-Carter says over 40 per cent of women won’t experience the typical crushing chest pain men experience when having a heart attack.

How to identify your heart health risk

Dr Bishop urges people to take the free Virtual Heart Check in order to identify which risk group they belong to as the all-important first step of prevention.

“Everyone in the high and intermediate-risk group is then referred to 3D Heart Imaging, which literally lets cardiologists see inside their heart, identify risk factors and then implement appropriate treatment or intervention,” he says.

Such screening is imperative towards understanding our risk level and reducing the number of heart attacks, according to Dr Bishop.

“We do it for breast cancer using mammograms, we send out test kits to people’s homes for bowel cancer, yet we don’t do anything for heart attack prevention – our biggest killer.”

Dr Worrall-Carter says it’s important to know your risk factors and book a health check with your GP.

Written by Liz McGrath.