© 2018 Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance

Absolute risk

Absolute risk is your chance, as an individual, of getting cardiovascular disease (which includes all heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases). It can be hard to know whether you are at risk of getting cardiovascular disease, because sometimes you can’t feel any symptoms.

In the past, your chance of getting cardiovascular disease was measured by looking at your risk factors one at a time, for example, blood pressure or cholesterol. We now know that risk factors work together to increase or decrease your overall chance of getting cardiovascular disease, and that we need to measure all of your risk factors together. The absolute risk calculator on this website does just that.

If you are 45 years or older (or 35 years and older if you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background) you can use the calculator to find out your absolute “heart and stroke” risk score. Your score will tell you your chance of getting heart, stroke and blood vessel disease in the next five years. When you find out your score, you will need to ask your doctor what it means and how you can take steps to reduce your chance to getting cardiovascular disease. 

What does your risk score mean?

If your risk score was calculated to be more than 15%, you are thought to be at high risk of getting heart, stroke or blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease) in the next five years. That means if everyone with a risk score of more than 15% was grouped together, about 1 in 7 would get cardiovascular disease within the next 5 years.

If your risk score is between 10—15%, you are thought to be at moderate risk of getting cardiovascular disease in the next five years. If your risk score is less than 10%, you are thought to be at low risk of getting cardiovascular disease in the next five years.

Whatever your risk score today, remember that it can change depending on what actions you take to lead a healthy life. The booklet Manage your heart and stroke risk may also help you understand your absolute risk. 

The following is an example of someone who gets their absolute risk measured.

David is a 49 year old male who has smoked a packet of cigarettes every day for the past 20 years. He has high blood pressure, often measured at 160 mmHg/100 mmHg. His total cholesterol is 6 mmol/L and his HDL cholesterol is 1 mmol/L. David weighs 70 kg and is 165 cm tall. David’s father died of stroke at 70 years of age, and his mother, who is 85 years old and still alive, has high blood pressure and diabetes.

David’s doctor considers these risk factors, as well as whether or not David has any conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, that already put him at high risk of heart, stroke and blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease), before calculating his risk.

Using a risk calculator, the doctor works out that David’s heart and stroke risk score is 16%. David has a high risk (more than 15%) of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as heart attack, in the next five years. Therefore, he needs to act now to lower his risk and works with his doctor to work out strategies to reduce his risk of getting cardiovascular disease. These strategies might include quitting smoking, taking medicine, exercising, eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking less alcohol.

Find out more for health professionals.

Note - the National Vascular Disease Prevention Alliance and its work has been incorporated into the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (ACDPA). All activities are being continued under ACDPA.

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