Heart attacks don’t wait for you to turn 52, they can strike at any age, at any time

By the time you finish reading this article, three Australians will have had a heart attack or a stroke.

One of them will die.

That may seem shocking, but cardiovascular disease — a group of disorders that can be described, in layman’s terms, as matters of the heart — is a major cause of death and disability globally.

“The public picture of it is that it hits suddenly and quickly,” cardiologist Clara Chow says.

“But it may be silently coming up over time without us realising it, and the only way we can realise it is to actually go and look for it.”

A broken ticker

Part of what makes a heart attack or stroke seem so sudden are the immediately devastating symptoms, and potentially fatal consequence, that can strike at any moment.

For Wayne Heming, it happened on holiday at the beach.

“I was on the Gold Coast, just doing a bit of body surfing,” he said.

“I came out of the surf feeling crap — I was lucky to make it out of the surf, I struggled up the beach.

“So we went back to the unit and I started getting a pain in the arm and broke out into chills.

“My mate drove me to Southport Hospital and I was diagnosed on the table.”

Fortunately, the blockage wasn’t too serious and Mr Heming walked away from the heart attack with his life and the new nickname “Ticker”.

He was 34.

When to get your heart checked

At the time, Mr Heming didn’t think what was happening to him was a heart attack.

“I did drink a lot and smoke, and wasn’t terribly fit, and I was overweight,” he said.

“It was unexpected from my point of view, a total shock with very little warning apart from being overweight.”

There are several known risk factors that increase the risk of a heart attack including smoking tobacco, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or physically inactive.

Mr Heming’s heart attack was in 1984.

Today, it is recommended people aged 45 and over  — or 35 for First Nations people — get their heart health checked.

Clara Chow, president of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand, said people with a family history of coronary disease should also get a check-up five years before that relative had an episode.

“If you had a relative who had a heart attack at age 45, you should probably get checked from 40,” Professor Chow said.

There’s no magic number that increases your risk of a heart attack — it can happen at any age.

But one number in Australia that’s become associated with it is 52.

The Shane Warne effect

On March 4, cricketer Shane Warne died of a heart attack while on holiday on the Thai island of Koh Samui.

The 52-year-old sportsman experienced chest pains prior to his death and had recently seen a doctor about his heart, according to Thai Police.

Regardless, his death came as a huge shock to his family, friends and fans around the world.

Six days later, Victorian Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching died of a suspected heart attack while driving to a meeting.

The 52-year-old politician was reportedly being treated for a health issue prior to her death.

Two days later, former Essendon premiership player Dean Wallis, 52, was rushed to hospital for life-saving surgery after suffering a heart attack. He survived.