Men's health

Hard Truths about Heart Disease – and a Case Study

Here are a few hard truths about the heart health of Australians… 

  • From data collected in 2017-2018, almost 3% of the Australian population were living with coronary heart disease (1).
  • During this same time period, it is estimated that 61,800 people aged 25+ had a coronary-related event, such as a heart attack or angina (1).
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for almost 11% of all deaths in 2019 (2).
  • Heart disease is also one of the most preventable causes of death! We wrote an article about this several weeks ago: The Bigger Picture: The Role Of Exercise Physiology In Long-Term Health

The risks relating to heart disease are real, and unfortunately, not everyone gets a second chance at life. 

Jarred (name changed for privacy) was lucky to come out the other side of his heart attack, but he was certainly not left unchanged! This case study is a prime example of the importance of taking a holistic, biopsychosocial (BPS) approach to recovery – and address the person, not just the condition. 


Jarred’s heart attack after-math…

Jarred met James, our Melbourne-based exercise physiologist, 17 months after his heart attack and subsequent coronary artery bypass surgery. At this point, he was still pretty shaken by the incident. He had managed a partial return to work of 24 hours but ongoing pain symptoms stopped him from resuming life, and work, as he used to know it. The unexpecting nature of his heart attack at not even 40 years of age had left him anxious and fearful of repeat incidents. 

Jarred would experience burning pain through the left side of the chest and back after 1 hour of sitting, requiring him to either get up and move around, or lay down until the pain resolved. Even walking and carrying the shopping bags would cause the pain to surface. Given that his symptoms mimicked those of a heart attack, it’s no surprise that this was a cause for anxiety!

This pain frequently interfered with his ability to concentrate, and he often would need to lie down mid-morning to allow the pain to resolve before returning to his highly cognitive job. Despite having been cleared from a cardiovascular point of view and informed his symptoms were attributed to a neural cause, his anxiety around physical activity persisted. 


And along came James!

James stepped in with an exercise physiology program. While originally having been referred for a cardiac condition, Jarred’s needs more closely resembled that of pain and anxiety management. Alongside his cardiac conditioning program, his sessions were focused on pain education, fatigue management, and graded exposure to exercise. This was critical for reducing his fear avoidance behaviours, regaining his confidence in movement, and promoting self-efficacy for physically exerting tasks. 

Together they explored new movements that got his heart rate up and strengthened his body. They had to do some cognitive reframing around his symptoms, and also implement fatigue management techniques such as task rotation and regular breaks.

By the end of the program, Jarred had successfully returned to full-time work, was no longer restricted by prolonged sitting, and was exercising independently 2-3 times per week! 

The best part:

“Jarred reported at the final session that he no longer has major concerns regarding the function of his heart or fears a repeat heart attack. He noted that he has walked up and down the stairs in his apartment block (approximately 25 stairs) without issue which was a task he previously feared and avoided.”

Oh – and did we mention that these outcomes were achieved primarily via Zoom Telehealth sessions over Melbourne’s Covid lock-down?!

Another successful case – thank you James – and another client back to full capacity!


Author: Yolanda van Vugt

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