Cardiovascular disease (CVD) covers all diseases and conditions of the heart and blood vessels. It is the leading cause of death in the Australian community, and causes significant burdens from ill health, disability and health system costs. NHMRC has invested over $439.5 million for cardiovascular disease research from 2000 to 2007.
What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) covers all diseases and conditions of the heart and blood vessels. There are many forms and causes of diseases in this diverse group. However, in developed countries such as Australia, the main underlying problem is atherosclerosis. In this condition abnormal build-ups of fat, cholesterol and other substances occur in the inner lining of arteries (plaque). Atherosclerosis is most serious when it affects the blood supply to the heart (causing angina or heart attack) or to the brain (which can lead to a stroke). Atherosclerosis is a slow and complex process, often starting in childhood, and it progresses with age.
The major preventable risk factors for cardiovascular disease are tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, insufficient physical activity, overweight and obesity, poor nutrition and diabetes. Risk strongly increases with age and is higher for men, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people from lower socioeconomic groups. New research suggests that other factors, including depression and social factors, may also play a role. 
The burden of cardiovascular disease in Australia
Based on the 2004–05 National Health Survey, 3.7 million Australians are estimated to have cardiovascular problems. Cardiovascular disease accounted for 46,134 deaths (35% of all deaths in Australia) in 2005. The prevalence of cardiovascular disease was significantly higher in females (55%) than in males (45%).
Cardiovascular disease is also one of the leading causes of disability, with around 1.4 million Australians estimated to have disability associated with cardiovascular conditions. Combining both the burden from premature death and the extent of its disability, CVD was estimated to account for 18% of the overall disease burden in Australia in 2003. Cardiovascular disease is the most expensive disease group in terms of direct health-care expenditure, at $5.9 billion. 
In 1996, under the National Health Priority Areas initiative, cardiovascular health was established as one of the original National Health Priority Areas due to the prevalence of heart, stroke and vascular disease and the cost to the community of their consequences, and the potential for prevention in this area. 
NHMRC funding into cardiovascular disease research
NHMRC has invested over $439.5 million for research related to cardiovascular disease from 2000 to 2007.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and National Heart Foundation of Australia 2004, Heart, stroke and vascular diseases Australian facts 2004
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2008), Australia's Health 2008
- Department of Health and Ageing
The information on this page should not be used for individual medical advice. Please see your doctor if you have concerns or specific questions relating to your health.