New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have revealed heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, killing approximately 48 Australians every day in 2018.

Dementia, stroke, lung cancer and lower respiratory diseases round out the top five causes, which collectively account for more than one third of all registered deaths last year.

Despite heart disease being the leading cause of death, the death rate from heart disease has actually decreased by 22.4% since 2009. This trend has been observed over the past 50 years. Meanwhile, cancers accounted for more than 30% of all deaths in 2018, with lung cancer remaining the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Around Australia right now, one in six people, or roughly 760,000 people, suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD accounted for more than half a million hospitalisations in 2018.

Cardiovascular disease is an illness affecting your heart and blood flow. Some of the most common conditions include:

  • Coronary heart disease: Damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): A condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high.
  • Cardiac arrest: Sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.
  • Heart failure: A chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.
  • Arrhythmia: Improper beating of the heart, whether irregular, too fast or too slow.
  • Peripheral artery disease: A circulatory condition in which narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the limbs.
  • Stroke: Damage to the brain from interruption of the blood supply.
  • Congenital heart disease: An abnormality in the heart that develops before birth.

Who is more at risk of cardiovascular disease?

When looking at patients who have cardiovascular disease, the severity of their case is based on several risk factors that relate to their health, age, and family history.

Some of the risks that can be controlled include:

  • The amount of physical activity you do: The World Health Organisation believes more than 60% of the world is not sufficiently active. Physical activity is one of the easiest risks to control as you only need to do 30 minutes, 5 days a week to improve you blood pressure, blood lipid levels, blood glucose, and reduce the risk of blood clots.
  • Tobacco and smoking: Smoking tobacco can increase your chance of getting heart disease as it damages the lining of blood vessels, increases fat deposits and the chance of clotting, and damages your cholesterol.
  • Diet: A diet that is high in fat has been shown to increase cholesterol levels and therefore increase your risk of CVD. A diet with high levels of sodium can cause an increase in your risk of suffering from hypertension. Doctors have found that diets with a low intake of fruit and vegetables account for about 20% of cardiovascular diseases. An increase of alcohol intake can also increase your risk of heart disease as it can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of stroke and cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Weight and Body Mass Index (BMI): Obesity is the greatest risk factor for CVD other than diabetes. In general, if your BMI is greater than 25, you are considered overweight. If it is more than 30, then you are considered obese and at serious risk of cardiovascular disease. Ask your doctor about what your body mass index is, or calculate it by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared.

There are risk factors that cannot be controlled and include:

  • Family history: If your father or brother has suffered a heart attack before 55, or if your mother or sister has suffered a heart attack by the age of 65, you are at a much greater risk of developing heart disease. If both parents have suffered from CVD, then your risk can be increased by up to 50% compared to the general population.
  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than people without diabetes. CVD is the leading cause of death among diabetes patients.
  • Age: The older you get, the greater your risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk of stroke doubles every decade after age 55.
  • Gender: Your gender is significant, as a male, you are at greater risk of CVD than pre-menopausal women. But post menopause, a woman’s risk is similar to that of men.
  • Ethnicity: Your ethnic origin can also put you at greater risk, those with African or Asian ancestry are at higher risk of developing CVD than other racial groups.

How to reduce your chances of getting cardiovascular disease.

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age, gender and family history, but there are many factors that are in your control. Here are some strategies you can incorporate into your everyday life to reduce your risk of getting CVD.

  • Exercising for just 30 minutes, five days a week decreases your chance of developing CVD drastically by helping to regulate your heart health and blood flow. The exercise also decreases your weight and BMI, further decreasing your risk.
  • Quitting smoking helps to reduce your risk of getting CVD by letting your body heal the damaged heart muscles and decreases the number of fat deposits around the body.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet can also help to reduce your BMI and weight. For professional help, contact your doctor or a nutritionist to help determine the right diet for you.