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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes the most deaths in Australia and is our most costly disease, but some improvements have been identified, according to a new report, Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report contains the latest data showing that in 2007–08 about 3.5 million Australians had a long-term cardiovascular disease, and nearly 50,000 deaths were attributed to CVD in 2008.

'In 2008, CVD was responsible for more deaths than any other disease group—34% of the total,' said Ms Lynelle Moon, of the AIHW’s National Centre for Monitoring Cardiovascular Disease.

'And CVD remains the most expensive disease group in Australia, costing about $5.9 billion in 2004-05, with just over half this money spent on patients admitted to hospital.'

CVD also imposes a burden of disease, measured in terms of disability and premature death, that is second only to cancer.

However, death rates for all the major types of CVD—coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, rheumatic heart disease and peripheral vascular disease—have fallen significantly in the past 20 years.

'The overall death rate for CVD has fallen by about 80% since the 1960s and continues to fall,' Ms Moon said.

In 2007–08 CVD was the main cause of 475,000 hospitalisations, and while CVD hospitalisation rates have fallen slowly over the past decade, patients who are admitted are now more likely to undergo a procedure in hospital to treat their CVD.

The main risk factor for CVD is age, with older people having much higher hospitalisation and death rates than younger people.

The modifiable risk factors include smoking, being overweight, excessive alcohol use and poor diet. All can be changed to reduce the risk of CVD.

'While it is good news that smoking rates are down,’ Ms Moon said, ‘we still have 1 in 6 people over 13 years smoking daily. We are also seeing increasing rates of Australians who are overweight or obese.'

'These examples alone show that there is still room for major improvements in reducing the impact of CVD in the community.'

Canberra, 17 March 2011

Further information: Ms Lynelle Moon, tel. (02) 6244 1235, mob.  0414 899 826 

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011