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 can work out your risk of a heart attack or stroke based on factors such as your age, sex, ethnicity, cholesterol levels, smoking history, blood pressure and family history of a heart attack or stroke.

Key points about heart risk assessment

  1. A heart risk assessment is an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years.
  2. The age you should start having heart checks depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors. 
  3. You can use an online tool called My Heart Check to give you an idea of your heart health.
  4. The best option is to have a heart risk assessment with your healthcare provider. 
  5. You can improve your heart health by stopping smoking, exercising regularly, healthy eating and drinking, managing stress and taking medicines if you need to.

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. You will get a percentage score such as 10%. This means that out of 100 people with the same risk factors as you, 10 of them will have a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years.

The score is calculated by building a risk profile based on a series of factors including: 

  • age
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • cholesterol levels
  • smoking history
  • blood pressure
  • family history of an early heart attack or stroke and other conditions
  • medical history – past or current heart problems, atrial fibrillation (AF), diabetes, kidney disease or stroke.

Some of these factors you can't change, but there are many that you can. That means the choices you make every day do matter. Over time, what you eat, drink, do and how you live increases or decreases your risk of heart disease and stroke.  

When do I need to have a heart risk assessment?

The age when you are advised to start having heart checks depends 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 or have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or prediabetes
  • you are overweight3
  • you have kidney disease
  • you have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels
  • you have previously had heart trouble or stroke
  • you have a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heart rhythm).
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, Afghan, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Pakistani, Tibetan
  2. Family history: Parent, brother or sister
  3. Overweight: BMI of ≥ 30 or weight around your tummy (waist circumference ≥ 102 cm in men or ≥ 88 cm in women)

Where can I do a heart risk assessment? 

My Heart Check tool

While the best option is to have a heart risk assessment with your healthcare provider, you can use an online tool called My Heart Check to give you an idea of your heart health. 

My Heart Check is a free online heart health check developed by the Heart Foundation. It's designed for Kiwis as it's based on Aotearoa New Zealand data. 

It can estimate your heart age compared to your actual age, as well as giving you an estimate of your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years.

This free online tool works best for people aged 30–75. You can still use it if you are older or younger, but your result may be less accurate. 

Use My Heart Check to:

  • get an idea of your heart health
  • get tips for how to improve your heart health
  • talk about your heart health with a healthcare professional.

You will need to provide information such as:

  • your age
  • your height and weight
  • your cholesterol levels (lipid profile)
  • your blood pressure
  • your medical history. 

If you're not sure about some of this information, you can leave it out, as the tool can base your results on an estimate. 

Note that this tool is not recommended if you have had a heart attack or stroke or have another heart condition. 

GP or nurse

The best (most accurate) option is to have a heart risk assessment with your healthcare provider. They can calculate your heart risk based on your age, medical history and all the other risk factors. They can also advise how often you need a heart risk assessment based on your situation.

Seeing your GP or nurse is also the best way to find out your heart health if you have had a heart attack, stroke or other heart conditions, as they know how to manage your condition. 

What should I do if my heart risk is high? 

See your healthcare provider. Based on your risk score, they will advise what you need to do, such as make lifestyle changes or start taking medicines for blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. Your healthcare provider will also let you know how often you would need to have a heart risk assessment based on your risk score to maintain your heart health.

How can I improve my heart health?

Knowing your risk can help motivate you to make some positive lifestyle changes. You have an important role to play in your heart health. While some risk factors can't be changed, others can. The choices you make every day do matter. Over time, what you eat, drink, do and how you live can improve your blood pressure and your cholesterol level. It can also improve the health of your arteries (atherosclerosis) and decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Even a small change can have a positive impact on your risk of heart attack and stroke. The more healthy changes you make, the better it is for your heart health. 

*Please talk to your doctor before exploring this option. Herbal or natural products and dietary supplements are not always safe and some treatments (taken by mouth) can create interactions with prescribed medicines. Discuss with your doctor any benefits of using complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and check interactions with your prescribed medicine or treatment and any safety concerns.

Learn more

Your heart Heart Foundation, NZ
My Heart Check Heart Foundation, NZ 
New Zealand heart risk assessment Mohio, NZ
Absolute CVD risk benefit calculator

References

  1. Cardiovascular disease risk assessment and management for primary care Ministry of Health, NZ, 2018
  2. What’s new in cardiovascular disease risk assessment and management for primary care clinicians BPAC, NZ, 2018
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Associate Professor Sue Wells, Public Health Physician, University of Auckland Last reviewed: 08 Mar 2023