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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 00:46 GMT
Call for universal heart checks
Doctors should assess whether all patients aged over 40 would benefit from comprehensive tests for cardiovascular disease, say experts.

Guidelines call for GPs to take a much more proactive approach to the UK's leading cause of death and disability.

They also stress younger adults should be screened if they have a family history of early onset artery damage.

The guidelines, backed by six leading organisations, are published in the journal Heart.

They are to be distributed to GPs across the country.

They set tougher targets for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar in those people deemed to be at heightened risk.

This includes those with signs of thickened arteries, renal failure and, for the first time, everybody with diabetes.

Blood pressure should be no greater than 130/80
Total cholesterol level should be less than 4mmol/l
LDL (bad) cholesterol should be less than 2 mmol/l

Professor David Woods, lead author of the guidelines, said the current system for assessing whether patients required treatment for cardiovascular problems was too ad-hoc.

He said doctors should take every opportunity to assess patients, and ensure that anybody who might benefit from closer monitoring or drug therapy got that chance.

Long-term dividend

"GPs are very busy dealing with the day to day business of a patient's complaint or symptoms, and may not feel they have time to address the more longer term aspects of their health," he said.

Over 25,000 people with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) every year in the UK
People with diabetes have an up to five fold increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
Currently 80% of people with diabetes die from cardiovascular complications

"But a long term investment in this area is going to pay dividends.

"Cardiovascular disease is the commonest cause of death and disability, and if we don't make an investment early in a patient's life, and encourage them to make changes that might benefit their health the consequence can be a person who is disabled with a poor quality of life, and who demands a great quantity of care."

Professor Woods said the most effective way to combat cardiovascular disease was to tackle social issues such as poverty.

But he said: "With effective preventative care in a clinical setting it has been estimated that the risk of cardiovascular disease could be reduced by a third across the population."

The recommendations came from a collaboration of the British Cardiac Society, the British Hypertension Society, Diabetes UK, HEART UK, the Primary Care Cardiovascular Society and the Stroke Association.

Professor Peter Weissberg, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "These guidelines make sense as they recognise that risk factors can be picked up before disease sets in and, if caught early, most can be modified through lifestyle changes and medical treatment where necessary."

Zoe Harrison, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK, said: "Achieving these new blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol targets can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

"The new targets might seem challenging in the short term but achieving them could save lives. That has got to be worth the effort."


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