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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
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spacing1What do we know about cardiovascular disease among Indigenous people?

What is known about heart health in the Indigenous population?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a group of diseases affecting the heart and circulatory system [1]. The most common types of CVD are coronary heart disease (including heart attack), stroke, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Risk factors (a behaviour or characteristic that makes it more likely for a person to get a disease) for CVD include: smoking (both smoking tobacco and being exposed to second-hand smoke), high blood cholesterol, being overweight, not eating well, being physically inactive and having diabetes.

Many Indigenous people are affected by CVD. One-in-eight (12%) Indigenous people reported in the 2012-2013 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey (AATSIHS) that they had some form of CVD [2]. One-in-twenty-five (4%) Indigenous people reported having had heart, stroke and/or vascular diseases. One-in-twenty (5%) Indigenous people reported having had high blood pressure (hypertensive heart disease).

More Indigenous women (13%) reported having CVD than Indigenous men (11%) in 2012-2013 [2]. Indigenous people living in remote areas were more likely to report having heart disease than were those living in non-remote areas. Heart and related conditions were 1.2 times more common for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people.

CVD was the leading cause of death of Indigenous people in 2012. It was responsible for 25% of the deaths of Indigenous people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT [3]. After age-adjustment, the death rate for Indigenous people was almost twice as high as that for non-Indigenous people.

Coronary heart disease was responsible for 61% of the CVD-related deaths among Indigenous men and 45% of those among Indigenous women. Cerebrovascular disease was responsible for 15% of deaths from CVD among Indigenous men and for 22% of those among Indigenous women.

Indigenous people are more likely to die from CVD when they’re young or in middle age than non-Indigenous people. In 2002-2005 in Qld, WA, SA and the NT, the death rates for all CVD were 8 to 12 times higher for Indigenous people in the 35-44 years and 45-54 years age-groups than the rates for their non-Indigenous counterparts [4].


  1. Baker IDI (2012) Cardiovascular disease. Retrieved 2012 from
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey: first results, Australia, 2012-13. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) Causes of death, Australia, 2012. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  4. Penm E (2008) Cardiovascular disease and its associated risk factors in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 2004-05. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Last updated: 25 September 2014
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