Heart disease cases drop but remain leading contributor to Australia's disease burden

Cardiovascular diseases, dementia and COPD still the leading causes of disease in older Australians

Latest in Health
Heart disease still a major health burden for older Australians

Heart disease still a major health burden for older Australians


Heart disease cases fall but it's still the leading contributor to 'disease burden'.


Coronary heart disease along with other heart conditions and dementia are the most common diseases in older people, while the biggest health burdens on younger people are mental health related, according to a new report.

While Australians are losing fewer years of healthy life to coronary heart disease, it still remains the leading contributor to the nation's collective 'disease burden', says the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Between 2003 and 2018 the number of people dying from heart disease went down but it remained the leading cause of disease burden, making up 6.8 per cent in 2018.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018 measures the years of healthy life Australians lost due to 219 diseases and 40 risk factors. Years living with poor health (the non-fatal burden of disease) or dying prematurely (fatal burden) are estimated using disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

Between 2003 and 2018, coronary heart disease had the largest reduction in DALY rate, falling from 21 to 10 DALY per 1,000 people.

"There was also a decline in total disease burden from stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung and bowel cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Total burden increased for dementia and back pain and other back problems."

The latest burden of disease study includes some risk factors that haven't been analysed previously, including low birthweight & short gestation and school-based bullying victimisation.

"Low birthweight & short gestation was responsible for 33,672 DALY, or 0.7 per cent of the total disease burden in 2018. It was the leading risk factor causing disease burden for Australians aged under 15 years, responsible for 11 per cent of total burden in this age group," Mr. Juckes said.

"School-based bullying victimisation was responsible for 5,207 DALY. Despite only representing 0.1 per cent of total disease burden in Australia. It was the 3rd most important risk factor for anxiety and depressive disorders in females of all age groups, behind child abuse & neglect and intimate partner violence."

The report includes detailed information on disease burden for males and females and in different age groups. Some of the key findings include:

  • Males experienced more burden (53 per cent of total burden) than females (47 per cent). Dying from disease and injury (fatal burden) accounted for more burden in males (61 per cent) higher, largely driven by higher male rates for diseases such as coronary heart disease, suicide and some cancers), while living with illness (non-fatal burden) accounted for slightly more burden in females (4 per cent higher).
  • For adults aged 45-74 years, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer were leading causes of total burden.
  • For Australians aged 75 years and above, cardiovascular diseases (coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were the major causes of total burden.

"Burden of disease research is recognised as the best method to measure the overall impact of different diseases or injuries in a population and is used as an evidence base for health policy, programs and service delivery," Mr. Juckes said.

Crisis support can be found at:

Lifeline: (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au)