In many ways cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be considered Australia’s most costly disease. It costs more lives than any other disease and has the greatest level of health expenditure. It also imposes a burden of disease, measured in terms of disability and premature death, second only to cancer.

However as this report illustrates, there are many areas where progress is being made in reducing the impact of CVD in the community but areas remain where there is still room for further improvement.

Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011 is the fourth in a series of national reports by the National Centre for Monitoring Cardiovascular Disease, providing an overview of cardiovascular disease in Australia. It aims to present information and statistics about the number of people with CVD, trends for hospitalisations and deaths, key risk factors and treatment and care. 

Key findings

The impact of cardiovascular disease

  • In 2007–08, about 3.5 million Australians had a long-term cardiovascular disease.
  • Nearly 50,000 deaths were attributed to CVD in Australia in 2008. It was responsible for more deaths than any other disease group—34% of the total.
  • CVD was the main cause for 475,000 hospitalisations in 2007–08 and played a secondary role in a further 797,000.
  • CVD accounted for about 18% of the overall burden of disease in Australia in 2003, with coronary heart disease and stroke contributing over 80% of this burden.
  • CVD remains the most expensive disease group in Australia, costing about $5.9 billion in 2004–05 with just over half of this money spent on patients admitted to hospital.


  • The overall death rate for CVD has fallen by about 80% since the 1960s and continues to fall.
  • Death rates for the major types of CVD, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, rheumatic heart disease and peripheral vascular disease, have all fallen markedly in the past 20 years.
  • There appears to be some recent slowing of the decline in the coronary heart disease death rates in younger age groups.
  • CVD hospitalisation rates have declined slowly over the past decade.

Who does it affect most?

  • On the whole lower socioeconomic groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those living in the remote areas of Australia had the highest rates of hospitalisation and death resulting from CVD.
  • CVD has its greatest impact on the elderly where hospitalisation and death rates are usually much higher than for others. The main exception to this is congenital heart disease where the impact is greatest on infants.
  • For most cardiovascular conditions male death rates are clearly higher than female rates—in some cases twice as high.
  • CVD is the cause of more female deaths than male deaths. This is because females usually live longer than males and the risk of a cardiovascular condition increases rapidly with age, particularly among the elderly.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease—how much can we reduce them?

  • The main risk factor for CVD is age.
  • Many risk factors for CVD, such as sex, ethnicity and a family history of the disease, cannot be changed.
  • Risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, being overweight, excessive alcohol use and a poor diet can all be changed and improving them can greatly reduce the impact of CVD.

Where are risk factors headed?

  • Smoking rates in Australia have fallen by about 32% over the past two decades with about 17% of Australians now daily smokers. However, smoking remains the single most important cause of ill health and death in Australia.
  • The prevalence of obesity rose by 6 percentage points between 1995 and 2007, with about 60% of adult Australians now being overweight or obese and about 70% not getting enough exercise.
  • Alcohol use has remained stable in the past decade but around 10% of males and females over 14 years of age drink at risky levels.

What is happening with treatment?

  • CVD patients are staying in hospital for shorter periods and the rate of deaths in hospital is declining.
  • The rates for most procedures to diagnose and treat people with CVD have increased in the past decade.
  • Prescription rates for medicines to control high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels have also increased substantially in the past decade.