- What is cardiovascular disease?
- How common is cardiovascular disease?
- What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
- Treatment or management of cardiovascular disease
- National activity to address cardiovascular disease
- Related links
What is cardiovascular disease?Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a collective term for diseases of the heart and blood vessels. The term commonly includes diseases such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and stroke. Many of these conditions can be life-threatening.
Coronary heart diseaseAlso known as ischaemic heart disease, this is the most common form of heart disease in Australia. The two major forms of coronary heart disease are heart attack (also known as acute myocardial infarction) and angina.
- A heart attack is caused when blood supply to the heart is blocked completely, often causing damage to the heart muscle and its function.
- Angina is a chronic condition where short episodes of chest pain occur periodically, caused by a temporary shortage of blood supply to the heart. Angina is not usually life-threatening, but can be associated with increased risk of heart attack. Top of page
Heart failure & cardiomyopathyHeart failure is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart is unable to maintain a strong enough blood flow to meet the body’s needs. It usually develops over many years, although it can also occur more suddenly. Heart failure can result in chronic tiredness, reduced ability for physical activity and shortness of breath. Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes thickened, enlarged or stiff which can reduce the effectiveness of the heart. Cardiomyopathy and heart failure commonly occur together.
Congenital heart diseaseA broad term for any defect of the heart or central blood vessels that is present from birth. It can include abnormalities of the heart or heart valves, such as a hole between chambers of the heart, or narrowing of major blood vessels, or combinations of disorders.
Peripheral vascular diseaseThis term refers to disease of large arteries that supply blood to the peripheries and can be caused by blockage of arteries due to cholesterol or fatty substances, or caused by widening of the arteries such as the aorta, which in severe cases can lead to rupture of the arterial wall.
StrokeStroke is a type of cerebrovascular disease and occurs when an artery supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becomes blocked or begins to bleed. This may result in part of the brain dying, leading to sudden impairment of one or more capacities, such as speaking, thinking and/or movement. Top of page
How common is cardiovascular disease?In 2011-12, an estimated 3.7 million Australians were affected by circulatory diseases, including around 1 million people with cardiovascular conditions such as stroke and heart disease; other conditions affecting a high number of people include high cholesterol and high blood pressure (source 1).
In 2012, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death among Australians, with 43,946 deaths recorded (almost 30% of all deaths in Australia, down from 38% in 2001) (source 2).
Indigenous Australians are around twice as likely to be affected by heart disease as other Australians (source 3).
What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?Major risk factors associated with CVD that cannot be modified include advancing age, genetic predisposition, gender and ethnicity. Modifiable risk factors include behavioural factors such as tobacco smoking, insufficient physical activity, poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption. Biomedical factors also play a major role, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and overweight and obesity.
A number of these risk factors are shared with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease. The interactions between these chronic conditions are complex and not well understood, however it is known that diabetes greatly increases the risk of CVD. People with diabetes have twice the risk of developing CVD as the general population. The prevalence rate of stroke can be up to five times greater, and prevalence of heart attack up to ten times greater, for people with diabetes than for those without diabetes. Top of page
Treatment or management of cardiovascular diseaseFor many people, a key step in managing cardiovascular disease involves addressing the modifiable risk factors discussed above. Additionally, there are a range of medicines and surgical treatments available for cardiovascular diseases. For example, depending upon the severity of the condition, coronary heart disease can be managed with medications such as aspirin, or treated through coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
Further detail about the prevention, management and treatment of specific heart problems can be found on the healthdirect website.
Cardiovascular disease programmes and initiativesThere is a range of programmes and initiatives to support prevention and optimal detection and treatment of CVD. Significant funding is also provided to ensure that quality clinical research is conducted into CVD, and to maintain national monitoring and surveillance measures.
Programmes that support CVD management and care include:
- The Medicare Benefits Schedule, which provides subsidies for patient care and includes Medicare items for the planning and management of chronic and terminal conditions. Eligible patients can also be referred by a GP for up to five Medicare subsidised allied health services that are directly related to the treatment of their chronic condition, including cardiovascular disease. In order to encourage early detection, diagnosis and intervention for treatable conditions such as heart disease, health assessment items are also available for people aged 45-49 years who are at risk of developing chronic disease, people aged 75 years and older and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which continues to provide subsidies for a range of medicines used in the treatment of, or symptoms associated with, CVD.
- Significant investments in CVD research through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with a focus on investigating the causes, effects, impacts and complications of CVD. Improving the care of patients with multiple and complex chronic diseases, including CVD, has also been identified by the NHMRC as a major focus in its 2013-15 Strategic Plan.
- Funding is provided to organisations such as the National Stroke Foundation and National Heart Foundation, and through programmes which provide support and training to general practitioners and primary health care services. Top of page
Funding has also been provided for the development of clinical guidelines to support the delivery of best-practice care to individuals with or at risk of, cardiovascular diseases. These include Guidelines for the Management of Absolute Cardiovascular Risk (2012) and Clinical Guidelines for Stroke Management 2010, both developed by the National Stoke Foundation.
- Further information about cardiovascular disease can be found at the Heart Foundation website.
- Further information about stroke can be found on the National Stroke Foundation website.
- Information relating to monitoring and surveillance of vascular diseases, including cardiovascular publications, can be found at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website.
- Healthdirect Australia has information on heart problems and cardiovascular health.
- Additional information on research funding can be accessed via the NHMRC website. Top of page
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012. Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-12. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra:ABS.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014. Causes of Death, Australia 2012. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra:ABS.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Biomedical Results, 2012-13. ABS cat. no. 4727.0.55.003. Canberra:AIHW.