SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- People aged 45 years and over (or 30 and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) are eligible for regular Heart Health Checks with their doctor (GP).
- As part of a Heart Health Check, your doctor will calculate your cardiovascular disease risk score. Your risk score estimates your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years.
- Your cardiovascular disease risk score combines your risk factors for a heart attack or stroke, including both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors.
- Your doctor will discuss your risk score with you and will support you to make positive changes to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
On this page
About heart attack and stroke
Coronary heart disease, along with stroke and blood vessel disease, belongs to the group of conditions known as cardiovascular disease.
Coronary heart disease is the main cause of heart attacks. Every day, 45 Australians die from coronary heart disease.
Some people may not be aware they are at risk of a heart attack or stroke because risk factors can be silent. For example, you may have high cholesterol or high blood pressure without having any symptoms.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, along with other modifiable risk factors like physical inactivity and poor diet.
As part of a Heart Health Check, your doctor will calculate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years. This is called your cardiovascular disease risk score. By knowing your risk score, your doctor can support you to take steps to reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
What is a Heart Health Check?
A Heart Health Check is a 20-minute check up with your doctor which is subsidised by Medicare. You are eligible for a Heart Health Check if you:
- have not had a heart attack or stroke, and
- you are over 45 years of age (or over 30 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people).
As part of a Heart Health check, your doctor will:
- ask you about your medical and family history of heart disease
- ask you about your lifestyle, including your diet, physical activity, and if you smoke or drink alcohol
- check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Your doctor will then take this information and use it to calculate your cardiovascular disease risk score.
Knowing your risk score will help you and your doctor to make immediate decisions about the best action to take to improve your heart health. This can include lifestyle changes like following a heart-healthy eating pattern and moving more. Some people may also need to take medicines to manage their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
If you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, it’s recommended you see your doctor or Aboriginal Health Practitioner from age 18 to identify any heart disease risk factors as early as possible.
Factors used to calculate your risk score for heart attack and stroke
Your doctor will calculate your cardiovascular disease risk score based on your modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors.
Modifiable risk factors are factors that you can change. Non-modifiable risk factors are factors you can’t change.
Heart attack and stroke risk factors that you can change include:
There are also some health conditions that increase risk:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- type 2 diabetes
- depression, anxiety and social isolation.
Risk factors you can’t change include:
- your age
- whether you were born male or female (your sex)
- being post-menopausal
- having a premature family history of heart disease (where one or more of your immediate family members, such as a parent or sibling, has had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 65).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from South Asian, Middle Eastern, Māori and Pacific Islander backgrounds are also at increased risk.
Calculating your risk score for heart attack and stroke
After considering your risk factors, your doctor will calculate your risk score, which is a percentage.
The percentage gives the probability of you having heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years. In other words, whether you are at low, intermediate or high risk.
Some people who have certain medical conditions do not need a risk score, because they are already at high risk. Your doctor will tell you if you are in this group and advise you about what to do to reduce your risk.
Making changes based on your risk score for heart attack and stroke
Depending on your risk score, your doctor will recommend changes to your health or lifestyle. In some cases, you may also need to take medicines to help reduce your risk.
No matter what your risk score, there are changes that you can make to improve your heart health:
- Stop smoking.
- Stay active.
- Follow a heart-healthy eating pattern, which includes:
- plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains
- a variety of healthy protein-rich foods – especially fish and seafood, legumes (such as beans and lentils), nuts and seeds. Eggs and poultry can also be enjoyed as part of a heart-healthy eating pattern. If you eat red meat, choose lean cuts and limit to one to 3 times per week
- unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese – if you have heart disease or high cholesterol, choose reduced fat varieties
- healthy fats and oils – choose nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their oils for cooking
- add herbs and spices to flavour foods, instead of salt.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Look after your mental health.
You may wish to participate in a formal health and exercise program. Ask your doctor about a suitable program or contact your local community health centre or council for more information.
Did you know walking is a great activity for heart health? Getting involved with a Heart Foundation Walking group is a fun and social way to be active. You can also register for a free Personal Walking Plan. Visit Heart Foundation Walking for more information.
Heart Age Calculator
Have you tried the Heart Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator?
The Heart Age Calculator estimates how your heart age compares to your actual age.
It only takes 3 minutes to find out and can help you understand your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Your risk of a heart attack or stroke may be higher if your heart age is greater than your actual age.
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Heart Foundation
- Community health centre
- Diabetes Victoria Tel. 1300 437 386
- Dietitians Australia Tel. 1800 812 942 or find a dietitian
- Beyond Blue Tel. 1300 224 636
- Quitline Tel. 13 78 48
- Nutrition position statements, Heart Foundation.
- Causes of death, Australia, 2021, Australian Bureau of Statistics.
- Agostino JW, Wong D, Paige E et al. 2020, ‘Cardiovascular disease risk assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged under 35 years: a consensus statement’, Med J Aust, vol. 212, no. 9, pp. 422-427.
- Heart Health Check, Heart Foundation.