Heart risk assessment

Also called cardiovascular risk assessment, or a heart check

Is your 'heart age' younger or older than your actual age? A heart risk assessment will help you find out by building a picture of your risk based on factors such as your age, sex, ethnicity, cholesterol levels, smoking history, blood pressure, family history and other health conditions.

What is a heart risk assessment?

A heart risk assessment is an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years. If you have a 10% risk, it means that if there were 100 people with the same risk as you, we'd expect 10 of them to have a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years.

This is calculated by building a risk profile based on the following factors: 

  • age and gender
  • ethnicity
  • cholesterol levels
  • smoking history
  • blood pressure
  • family history
  • medical history – past or current heart problems, diabetes, stroke etc. 

Some of these you can change. Some you can't. The key message is you have an important role to play in your health and the choices you make every day do matter. Over time, what we eat, drink, do and how we live increases or decreases our risk of heart disease and stroke.  

When do I need to have an assessment?

The age when you are advised to start having heart checks changes, depending on your sex, ethnicity, and other risk factors. 

Risk factors Men Women

If you have no known risk factors

45 years 55 years

If you are Māori, Pasifika or South Asian1

30 years 40 years

If you have the following risk factors:

  • you smoke
  • you have a family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke2
  • you have gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or prediabetes
  • you are overweight3
  • you have kidney disease
  • you have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • you have previously had a heart trouble or stroke
  • you have a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation.
35 years 45 years

If you have diabetes (type 1 or 2)

As part of your yearly diabetes review

If you have schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or other severe mental illness

25 years
  1. South-Asian peoples: Indian, including Fijian Indian, Sri Lankan, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Pakistani, Tibetan
  2. Family history: parent, brother or sister
  3. Overweight: BMI ≥ 30 or weight around your tummy (waist circumference ≥ 102 cm in men or ≥ 88 cm in women)

What will the assessment tell me?

You will often be given a CVDRA score, eg, a CVDRA score of 20% means 20 out of 100 people (this is the same as 1 out of every 5 people) with this risk level are likely to have angina, a heart attack or stroke within the next 5 years. This is considered a high-risk level and you would want to know more about what you can do to lower your overall cardiovascular risk and improve your heart age. 

Is your heart happy?

If you want to find out how happy your heart is, answer the following 11 questions to review your risk factors:

1)  Do you regularly eat unhealthy foods (eg, high in saturated fat)? Y / N
2)  Do you smoke cigarettes? Y / N
3)  Are you a male over 45 or a female over 55? Y / N
4)  Are you of Māori, Pasifika or South Asian descent? Y / N
5)  Do you have diabetes? Y / N
6)  Have you had heart trouble or a stroke before? Y / N
7)  Do you have high blood pressure? Y / N
8)  Do you have high cholesterol? Y / N
9) Are you overweight? ie, is your BMI more than or equal to 30? Y / N
10) Is your waist circumference more than 102 cm in men or more than 88 cm in women? Y / N
11)  Do you spend less than 30 minutes a day being physically active Y / N
12)  Has anyone in your family (eg, a parent or sibling) had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 50 years?  

How did you score? 

The more times you answered 'Yes' the more risk factors you have. Discuss this with your doctor or nurse to see how you can reduce your risk and use the links to other sections of this website. 

What can I do about my risk?

You have an important role to play in your health.

The choices you make every day can change your risk of heart disease. There are many risk factors that work together to influence your risk of heart disease. Some of these risk factors can be changed, while others cannot.

Your age, gender, ethnicity, and family history of heart disease are beyond your control. However, there are some factors that you can change, such as your blood pressure, your cholesterol, what you eat and drink, if you smoke, and how much you move. Knowing your risk can help you to decide to make some positive lifestyle changes. 

No matter how high or how low your risk of heart disease is, there are always choices you can make to manage your risk and improve your heart health. It is important to consider your own (and your family’s) personal beliefs and concerns when deciding what you would like to do to manage your risk.

Even a small change can have a positive impact on your risk of heart attack and stroke. The more you change, the better. 

*Please talk to your doctor before exploring this option

Learn more

Your heart Heart Foundation, NZ

Credits: Heart Foundation of New Zealand, 2018. Reviewed By: Health Navigator Last reviewed: 18 Apr 2016