What is Cardiovascular disease ?

The term cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and includes conditions such as coronary heart disease (also known as ischaemic heart disease), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), heart failure, rheumatic heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Page last updated: 16 July 2013

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was endorsed as a National Health Priority Area at the Australian Health Ministers Conference in 1996 in recognition of the high prevalence of the disease in Australia, its impact on morbidity and mortality, and its potential for health improvements through prevention and treatment programs.

In this section:

How common is CVD?

In 2011-12, it was estimated that around 3.7 million Australians had one or more long-term cardiovascular conditions, up from 3.4 million in 2007-08.

CVD mortality and disability

CVD is the leading cause of death in Australia1. In 2010, CVD caused 32% of all deaths nationally, with coronary heart disease and stroke alone causing almost 33,000 deaths, and more than 6,700 additional deaths being caused by heart failure, hypertensive disease and cardiac arrhythmias2.

Despite being our most common cause of death, Australian CVD deaths rates fell by an estimated 76% between 1968 and 2007,3 with much of this decline being attributed to improved detection, management and prevention4.

CVD is associated with high levels of disability – in 2007 it was estimated that around 800,000 Australians with CVD experienced disability leading to mild-to-profound restriction on activities5.

Risk factors and protective factors for CVD

There are many risk factors for CVD, some of which cannot be altered, such as increasing age and family history, and some of which can, including smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and obesity6. Most Australians have at least one risk factor for CVD, for example, more than 90% fail to consume the recommended daily intake of vegetables, and almost 60% do not get enough physical activity7.

There are also many factors that protect against CVD. Apart from a good diet and regular physical activity, low alcohol consumption, high levels of HDL cholesterol and a strong social support network all help to prevent CVD8.

Further Information

For information on the signs and symptoms of CVD and advice about CVD prevention and management, please refer to the following websites:

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). Australia’s Health 2010, page 141.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3303.0 Causes of Death, Australia, 2010. Available at Australian Bureau of Statistics website
3 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). Australia’s Health 2010, page 141.
4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011, page 50.
5 Australian Institution of Health and Welfare (2010). Australia’s Health 2010, page 142.
6 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011, page 7.
7 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012). Risk factors contributing to chronic disease, page 6.
8 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011, page 36.