Lifestyle changes can reduce risk

Many chronic conditions, including CVD, share common risk factors that are largely preventable, such as tobacco use, risky alcohol consumption, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.

Reducing exposure to these and other risk factors can help to reduce the risk of developing CVD and experiencing CVD events, such as heart attack and stroke.

Behavoural risk factors and biomedical risk factors.

Sources: ABS 2019, ABS 2013.

Small lifestyle changes—such as eating a healthy diet and being more active—can help to reduce these disease risk factors.

Smoking levels have declined substantially in recent decades—in 1989–90, 24% of women aged 18 and over smoked daily, falling to 11% in 2017–18.

By contrast, more Australians are now overweight or obese. Between 1995 and 2017–18, the proportion of women who were overweight or obese rose from 49% to 60%.

Absolute risk

As a woman’s number of risk factors rises, so does her risk of developing CVD. A comprehensive individual risk assessment takes into account all risk factors – modifiable, non-modifiable, and related conditions.

What is absolute risk?

Absolute CVD risk is the probability of an acute coronary event occurring within a 5-year period. It reflects a person’s overall risk of developing CVD, replacing the traditional method that considers various risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, in isolation (NVDPA 2012).

A 2016 study estimated that about 14% of Australian women aged 45–74 (522,000 women) were at high absolute risk of a future CVD event over the following 5 years. A further 2.9% (108,000 women) were at moderate risk (Banks et al. 2016).

Of those women at high absolute risk who already had CVD, many were not receiving recommended treatment, with only 48% receiving lipid-lowering medication, 63% receiving blood pressure-lowering medication, and 34% receiving both blood pressure and lipid-lowering medication.