Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term describing disease of the heart and blood vessels, a condition that is the number one cause of death in Australia. If the heart is the main organ affected the term used may be ‘coronary artery disease’. The epidemic of heart attack, stroke and other forms of vascular disease has been a prominent and constant challenge to the health of Australians. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death among Australians in 1998, accounting for 40% of all deaths. Coronary heart disease (mainly heart attacks) was the leading single cardiovascular cause of death, accounting for 22% of all deaths in Australia in 1998. Stroke was Australia ’s second greatest single killer after coronary heart disease. It is the leading cause of long-term disability in adults.
For a 40-year-old, the risk of having coronary heart disease at some time in their future life is one in two for men and one in three for women. For a 45-year-old, the risk of having a stroke before age 85 is one in four for men and one in five for women. High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by two to four times.
In 1995, more than 10 million adult Australians (over 80% of the adult population) had at least one of the following cardiovascular risk factors: tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, or overweight. About four in five men and three in four women had at least one of these risk factors. For example, almost 22% of Australians aged 14 years and over smoke on a regular basis, more than 43% of the population do not undertake physical activity at the levels recommended to achieve a health benefit, and over seven million adult Australians (aged 25 and over) are overweight or obese according to Government health statistics over 1998-2000.
In 1999 –00, over six million Australian adults (aged 25 years and over) had blood Cholesterol levels higher than 5.5 mmol/L, the upper limit recommended by the National Heart Foundation of Australia.