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Cardiovascular disease deaths are continuing to fall, yet, 1.2 million Australians had one or more conditions related to heart, stroke or vascular disease during 2017-18, a new report released from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has revealed.

Modifiable risk factors such as smoking, insufficient physical activity and uncontrolled high blood pressure are just some of the leading causes.

The release of today’s report coincides with World Heart Day, which this year runs under the theme ‘Use Heart to Connect’ and aims to improve equity, prevention and support across the community.

The report, Heart, stroke and vascular disease – Australian facts, covers a range of sub-types of heart, stroke and vascular disease, including how they impact different populations. For example, by socioeconomic group, remoteness areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

According to data, there were 58,700 acute coronary events (including heart attack and unstable angina) and 38,600 stroke events among people aged 25 and over in 2018, equating to around 161 and 100 events every day, respectively.

Between 1980 and 2019, the number of cardiovascular disease deaths declined by 22%, from 55,800 to 42,300.

While still accounting for 25% of deaths in Australia, the age-standardised death rates have declined by three-quarters over the last 40 years – falling from 700 to 150 per 100,000 for males, and 452 to 107 per 100,000 for females.

Over the same period, the number of stroke deaths 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 AIHW report also reveals that certain groups in Australia are more impacted by cardiovascular disease than others. As an example, people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas had cardiovascular death rates 1.5 times as high as people living in the highest socioeconomic areas did.

The new report also includes analysis of selected cardiovascular risk factors – poor diet, insufficient physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, overweight (including obesity), uncontrolled high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids, and self-reported diabetes.

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

“Risk factors are behaviours or characteristics that increase the likelihood of developing a particular disease, the more risk factors a person has, the higher the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease, stroke or angina,’ Mr Juckes said.

“This presents an increased risk of poorer health outcomes, reduced life expectancy and death.”

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

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

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

The AIHW report expands on analysis from the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018 which shows that coronary heart disease continues to be the leading cause of disease burden in Australia.