- The term ‘heart disease’ refers to a group of conditions that can affect your heart including coronary heart disease and heart failure.
- In the early stages of heart disease, you may not notice any symptoms.
- There are many risk factors for heart disease — some you can’t control, but some you can.
- If you’re aged 45 years or above (or 35 years or above for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people) you should ask your doctor to assess your heart disease risk.
What is heart disease?
The term heart disease refers to a group of conditions that can affect your heart including coronary heart disease and heart failure. In the early stages of heart disease, you may not notice any symptoms. Understanding your risk of heart disease can help you take steps to reduce it and to protect your heart.
Am I at risk of heart disease?
There are many risk factors for heart disease — some you can’t control, but some you can.
Risk factors you can’t control include:
- age – your risk increases as you get older
- gender – your risk increases at an earlier age if you’re male. If you’re female, your risk may be affected by complications you experienced during pregnancy and your risk increases after menopause
- family history of heart disease, particularly in a first degree relative (parent, sibling or child)
- ethnic background – your risk increases at an earlier age if you’re of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander ethnic origin
Risk factors you can control include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- diet, especially if you carry excess weight
- low levels of physical activity
- heavy alcohol intake
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When you find out your results, you should discuss them with your doctor and act to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Should I check my heart disease risk?
If you are aged 45 years or above (or 35 years or above for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people), ask your doctor to assess your heart disease risk. Your risk should be reassessed by your doctor at least every two years.
What happens during a heart disease risk assessment?
Your doctor may do a few things to assess your heart health and risk of heart disease. These include:
- recording your age — the older you are, the higher your risk of heart disease
- finding out if you have a family member with heart disease — if you do, this increases your risk
- asking you about your lifestyle, such as your diet, physical activity, smoking status and alcohol intake
- asking about your mental health — some mental health problems like depression can increase your heart disease risk
- measuring your blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar level
- measuring your weight
- performing an electrocardiogram
Your doctor will use the results of the assessment to calculate your heart disease risk, either using a risk chart or an online calculator.
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What follow-up is involved?
Your doctor will discuss your test results with you and any follow-up needed.
Changes you might be able to make include:
- eating more healthily
- becoming more physically active
- quitting smoking (if you smoke)
- reducing your alcohol intake
Your doctor can also advise you on how often you should have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Symptoms of heart disease may include:
- chest pain that is worse on exertion
- shortness of breath on exertion and while lying flat
You should see your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.
What tests might I need to check if I have heart disease?
If your doctor suspects you may have heart disease, they may also arrange further tests, including:
- echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) — this gives a picture of the structure of your heart, including the heart’s walls, chambers and valves
- stress tests — to show how hard your heart works during exercise
- coronary angiogram or coronary computed tomography (CT) angiogram — to see whether blood flow to and from the heart is reduced or blocked
Resources and support
- If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book a Heart Health Check.
- The Heart Foundation offers action plans to improve your heart health and gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle.
- Eat healthy with the Heart Foundation’s heart healthy recipes.
- Be active by joining or leading a Heart Foundation walking group for free.
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Last reviewed: March 2023