Stroke and heart attack screenings falling short - report

Lorelei Mason
Source: 1News

New research claims screening for strokes and heart attacks is falling short, with doctors internationally relying on flawed, outdated information.

The epidemiological study published in international journal "Nature Reviews Neurology" involved 240,000 patients.

It concludes screening has not helped reduce stroke numbers in the past decade.

Lead author AUT Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology Valery Feigin says current screening worldwide is giving false reassurance to people classified as moderate to low risk of cardiovascular events.

He says many GPs internationally are still relying on an outdated algorithm, or risk assessment, to identify patients most at risk; one which is 70 years old.

"At the time it was written there was no evidence of the effect of behavioural or lifestyle risk factors on cardiovascular events, therefore these risk factors were not included," says Professor Feigin.

He says the current checklist does measure things such as a patient's blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as ask questions about their smoking behaviour and family stroke history.

However it doesn't include checks on their fruit and vegetable intake, weight or physical activity, their alcohol consumption or emotional stress.

Nor he says, does it ask about irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation, all of which are high risk factors for stroke and heart attack.

Professor Feigin says the current algorithm picks up only those patients deemed high risk; ruling out others incorrectly classified as low to moderate risk.

"They are given false reassurance they are safe, which is not true," he says.

"Eighty percent of strokes and heart attacks are happening in these very low to moderate-risk people."

The upshot he says, is that those patients aren't being suitably advised to make necessary improvements to their lifestyle habits to prevent the chance of a stroke or heart attack occurring.

The Stroke Foundation acting CEO Don Scandrett says if research like this identifies that changes need to be made to how risk assessments are done then the foundation welcomes that.

Professor Feigin estimates changes to the screening risk assessment are likely within the next year or two.