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Affairs of the heart kept close to chest

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Around one in every five people experiencing symptoms of heart disease refuse to tell their doctor, despite recognising the need for medical attention, a study has found.

Researchers asked more than 600 people, waiting to see their doctor about non-heart related matters, about their levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, current symptoms of undiagnosed heart disease and their intention to talk to their GP about their heart symptoms.

About 20 per cent of patients admitted they had undiagnosed moderate to severe symptoms of heart disease, yet were reluctant to tell their doctor. Interestingly, those with the most severe symptoms were the least willing to talk to their GP about the problem.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton told ABC’s PM program that there is a golden 24 hours during which 50 per cent of people lose their life from a heart attack.

Dr Hambleton said the first four hours were crucial, and if patients were admitted to hospital during this time doctors could remove blockages of the heart and leave the patient with no damage despite the fact they had just had a heart attack.

Lead researcher, behavioural scientist Dr Coralie Wilson from the University of Wollongong, said heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, so understanding the way people behave in seeking treatment is vital.

“Our research showed that patients with symptoms of heart disease that had not yet been diagnosed by a doctor had reduced intention to tell their doctor about these symptoms, even though they also acknowledged that a person with such symptoms should see a doctor,” Dr Wilson said.

“As people become unwell their ability to clearly recognise their symptoms and take action becomes diminished.”

Dr Hambleton said doctors are trained to read the visual clues of their patients.

“As soon as the patient gets up out of the chair and starts making their way to the door, you’re actually starting to assess: What’s their gait doing? Are they looking frail? What colour are they? Is there a problem? Are they sweaty and clammy? All those things pass through your mind.

“When we do a general check-up we actually go through something that’s called a systems review. The first one on the list is the cardiovascular system: Have you got any chest pain? Have you got any palpitations? Have you had any problems in that area?

“[It is] one of the routines that practitioners are taught, right from early days in student-hood. We’ve got to go back to those basics and sometimes ask that series of questions.”

The research was presented at the Australian Psychological Society’s annual conference.

Kirsty Waterford