Heart Failure in Indigenous Australians: The ‘Heart of the Heart Study’

Heart failure, a condition where the heart is unable to pump blood effectively to meet the needs of the body, leads to fluid retention, breathlessness, tiredness and impacts on the quality of life of those affected by it. It is known to be commonest in older Australians, particularly those with a background of coronary disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. It affects about 300,000 Australians or about 1.3% of the population.

Indigenous Australians have twice the mortality rates of the rest of the population from heart failure, but how frequently this condition occurs in them isn’t known.

New research, published in Heart Journal has looked at this question in Central Australian communities.

In this study, researchers went to Indigenous communities in Alice Springs and remote communities in Central Australia to screen for heart failure using clinical examination, blood tests and modern ultrasound equipment.

Researchers found that about 5% of the population had evidence of heart failure, much higher than reported in the general population, even though they are very young. Rheumatic heart disease, common in Central Australia was one of the conditions found to be associated with heart failure but most commonly it was related to diabetes, high blood pressure and being overweight.

Dr McGrady the lead author on this work continues to work in Central Australia. She visits every 6 months running clinics and cardiac ultrasound to support the communities in improving their health and preventing the development of heart failure.