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Health conditions

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (also known as circulatory system diseases) covers all diseases and conditions of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure and rheumatic heart disease.

Among the most serious types of cardiovascular disease are coronary (or ischaemic) heart disease, stroke and heart failure, often referred to collectively as heart, stroke and vascular disease.

In Australia, the main underlying cause of cardiovascular disease is a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is most serious when it leads to reduced or blocked blood supply to the heart (causing angina or heart attack) or to the brain (causing stroke).

In 2018–19, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (based on self-reported data):

  • 15% (124,000 people) had cardiovascular disease as a long-term condition.
  • 17% of females had cardiovascular disease compared with 14% of males, though males were slightly more likely to report heart, stroke and vascular disease than females (5.5% compared with 4.9%).
  • The prevalence rates of cardiovascular disease increased with age, from 2% for those aged 0–14 to 56% for those aged 55 and over (Figure HC 11).

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by long-term damage to the heart muscle or heart valves as a result of acute rheumatic fever. Acute rheumatic fever is a delayed complication of infections by Group A streptococcus bacteria that cause strep throat or scarlet fever. Both acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are preventable causes of ill health and death (AIHW 2015).

Between 2016 and 2020, among Indigenous Australians living in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory:

  • The rate of acute rheumatic fever diagnoses increased from 60 per 100,000 population (424 diagnoses) to 69 per 100,000 population (521 diagnoses) (Figure HC 12a).
  • The rate of new rheumatic heart disease diagnoses increased from 51 per 100,000 population (222 diagnoses) to 59 per 100,000 population (279 diagnoses) (Figure HC 12b).