Vascular disease

Cardiovascular disease deaths continue to fall thanks to improved detection and care


Cardiovascular disease deaths continue to fall, but the disease still weighs heavily on Australians and will only become more burdensome as the population ages, according to a new report.

The report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed that 1.2 million Australian adults had one or more conditions related to heart, stroke or vascular disease in 2017–18, and modifiable risk factors such as smoking, insufficient physical activity, and uncontrolled high blood pressure are putting millions more at risk.

Nearly 59,000 (58,700) acute coronary events and 38,600 stroke events were recorded in people aged 25 and over in 2018, or around 161 and 100 events per day, respectively, the report read.

While still accounting for 25% of deaths in Australia, overall cardiovascular disease deaths declined by 22% from 55,800 t0 42,800 between 1980 and 2019, with the age-standardised death rates falling by three quarters over forty years from 700 to 150 per 100,000 males and 452 to 107 per 100,000 females.

Over the same period of time, the number of stroke deaths has declined by 30% from 12,100 to 8,400.

“These declines in deaths have been driven by a number of factors, including reductions in certain risk factors, clinical research, improvements in detection and secondary prevention, and advances in treatment, care, and management,” said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

“However, the broader impact of heart, stroke and vascular disease to individuals and the health system is substantial and is expected to increase in the future as the population ages.”

The report also showed that certain groups in the Australian population are more heavily impacted by CVD. People living in the lowest socioeconomic areas had cardiovascular death rates 1.5 times as high as people living the highest socioeconomic areas (age-standardised rates of 158 and 106 per 100,000 population).

Poor diet, insufficient physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids and self-reported diabetes also increased patients’ risk of cardiovascular events.

The report brings together data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Surveys held between 2014–15 and 2017–18. This found that 1 in 3 adults (31%) had 2 of these risk factors in combination, while 57% had three or more risk factors, including 3.6% who had 5 or 6 risk factors. Males (62%) were more likely than females (50%) to have three or more risk factors in combination.

“Despite the risks facing adults, substantial progress has been made in improving the cardiovascular health of Australians through prevention and treatment,” said Mr Juckes.

There were 327,000 emergency department presentations with CVD in 2019–20. The majority (43%) were triaged as ‘emergency’ and required care within 10 minutes.

Over 107 million prescriptions were supplied through the PBS for cardiovascular medicines, representing one-third (35%) of all medications prescribed in Australia in 2019–20.

Coronary heart disease remains one of the highest disease burdens in Australia, accounting for 13% of the total burden and ranking third behind cancer and other neoplasms, and muscoloskeletal conditions, the report stated.

The full report Heart, stroke and vascular disease — Australian facts is available here.

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