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.

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. You can also do a heart risk assessment with your GP or nurse. This is the best option if you have had a heart attack, stroke or other heart condition.
  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. If you have a 10% risk, it means that if there were 100 people with the same risk as you, we would 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
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • cholesterol levels
  • smoking history
  • blood pressure
  • family history
  • medical history – past or current heart problems, diabetes 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, Afghani, 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

My Heart Check is a free online heart health check developed by the Heart Foundation. It is designed for Kiwis as it is based on 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

You can also undergo a heart risk assessment with your GP or nurse. They can calculate your heart risk based on your age, medical history and 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 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 GP or nurse. Based on your risk score, your GP or nurse will advise what you need to do, such as make lifestyle changes or start taking medicines for blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. Your GP or nurse 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 and increase or 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 CAM and check interactions with your conventional medicine or treatment and any safety concerns.

Learn more

Your heart Heart Foundation, NZ
My Heart Check Heart Foundation, NZ 

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

Reviewed by 

After 45 years of GP experience, and 8 years as an examiner and practice assessor, Dr Bryan Frost has completed a Diploma in Editing and is pursuing a new career. He also has a Diploma in Health Administration, with honours in management, and has also completed a paper in Health Care Law.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Bryan Frost, FRNZCGP, Morrinsville Last reviewed: 03 Feb 2021