Heart disease | Mate manawa

Also known as cardiovascular disease

Key points about heart disease

  • Heart disease (mate manawa) is a general term to include a wide range of conditions that affect your heart.
  • Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • It is also a major cause of disability and other ongoing health problems.
  • Your risk is affected by many different factors – the more you have, the greater your chance of having heart disease.
  • Some risk factors can’t be changed, but other risk factors can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Doing a heart risk assessment will help you find out your risk and the changes you need to make to reduce it.
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Heart disease is a general term used to describe any type of disorder that affects your heart. It includes conditions that affect your heart’s muscle, valves, blood vessels or rhythm.

Heart disease that involves narrowed or blocked blood vessels is also known as ‘cardiovascular disease’. Cardiovascular disease can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.

Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.

Learn more about the most common heart conditions, their causes, symptoms, prevention, diagnosis and treatment options. 

(Heart Foundation, NZ, 2016)

There are many different factors that shape your risk of getting heart disease. Some of these you can’t change, such as your age, sex and ethnicity. However, there are other factors you can change, such as whether you smoke, what you eat and drink and how much you exercise.

By making healthy choices every day, you reduce your risk of heart disease. 

Learn more about risk factors for heart disease.

A heart risk assessment will help you find out your risk of heart disease 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. The more information you provide and the more involved you are in the testing procedures, the better the result of your assessment by your doctor will be. 

Different people need a heart risk assessment at different ages. Find out more about heart risk assessment.

My Heart Check

As well as seeing your GP for a heart risk assessment, you can check your heart health with My Heart Check(external link). It's a free online heart health check designed for Kiwis by the Heart Foundation. 

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. Note that 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. You can use this information to help your GP to further evaluate your heart risk and advise about testing methods appropriate for you. 

Use My Heart Check(external link) to find out about your heart health.

You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to change the factors that put you at greater risk:

Learn more about risk factors for heart disease.

There are several different tests and investigations used to check on your heart health and to diagnose and monitor any heart condition you may have. These include an ECG (electrocardiogram) either at rest or under exercise stress, an echocardiogram and coronary angiography.

The tests your doctor chooses for you will depend on your risk of heart disease, your history of heart problems and the symptoms you might have.

Read more about heart conditions tests and procedures.

There are a number of treatments for heart disease, depending on the condition. This may include medicines, procedures such as coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty (stent) and valve surgery. Serious forms of heart disease that affect the ability of your heart to continue pumping properly may involve a transplant. 

If you need surgery for your heart condition, there are a few things you need to do or keep track of after you are discharged from the hospital. 

  • Cardiac rehabilitation – cardiac rehabilitation is the term used to describe the education, training and support for people who have had a heart attack or developed heart disease. Ask your doctor about what is available in your area. Read more about cardiac rehabilitation
  • Taking your medicines – you will need to take your medicines regularly as prescribed by your doctor. This is to make sure that you recover well from your heart disease or heart surgery. Some of these may need to be taken for life. 
  • Healthy lifestyle – it's important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle even after your heart disease has been treated or you have recovered. This includes healthy eating and drinking, stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising according to your ability(external link) and good control of your diabetes or cholesterol level. 
  • Attending follow-up appointments – your doctor may set up appointments for you a few weeks to months after you have been discharged. It is important to attend these appointments as this gives your doctor a good idea of how well you are recovering and whether any further treatment is needed. 

For more information about the recovery process, see the Heart Foundation’s booklet Living well after a heart attack(external link) and find out about the Journeys(external link) of people with heart disease.

Heart Help(external link) is the go-to place for information and support for people living with heart disease, and for their family/whānau and friends. You will also find resources and opportunities for staying connected with the Heart Help community.

Hear stories from people who have been through a heart attack and get advice from health professionals on all your heart health questions. 

Video: Heart attack

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(Heart Foundation, NZ, 2015)

Video: Jenny and Sela | Heart health journeys | Heart Foundation NZ

This video may take a few moments to load.

(Heart Foundation, NZ, 2017)

Video: From grief to optimism after a heart attack | Heart Foundation NZ

When Chess was diagnosed with heart disease, she recalls initially being in denial about her diagnosis. She talks about her successful operation, how she processed her grief and faced her smoking addiction, and her new optimistic outlook on life. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Heart Foundation, NZ, 2017)

Video: Life after bypass surgery | Tongan story | Heart Foundation NZ

Mofini's story of heart bypass surgery is available in Tongan and English. Taking six months off work to recover from the surgery came with a large degree of financial stress. This video may take a few moments to load.

(Heart Foundation, NZ, 2017)

Clinical guidelines and resources

Cardiovascular disease risk assessment and management for primary care(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2018
New Zealand Primary Care Handbook 2012(external link) Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora
Cardiology research review issue 80(external link) Research Review, NZ, 2019
Cardiovascular disease risk assessment in primary care – the role of aspirin(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2018
Validity of a novel point-of-care troponin assay for single-test rule-out of acute myocardial infarction(external link) JAMA Cardiology, 2018
The immediate management of acute coronary syndromes in primary care(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2015
A review of statin use and monitoring(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2014
Communicating cardiovascular risk effectively(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2014
Investigating myalgia in patients taking statins(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2014
Fasting may be unnecessary for lipid testing(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2013
Trends in ischaemic heart disease – patterns of hospitalisation and mortality rates differ by ethnicity (ANZACS-QI 21)(external link) NZMJ, 2018

See our page Heart failure for healthcare providers

Continuing professional development

Cardiology webinar(external link)

Murray Hart, a clinical nurse specialist talks about the following topics:

  • Management of aortic stenosis – when to refer
  • ECHO report interpretation of aortic valve parameters
  • TAVI as a treatment option for severe aortic stenosis – the latest evidence
  • HFrEF and HFpEF
  • New medications in heart failure – Entresto (Sacubitril/valsartan)
  • Acute coronary syndrome – what’s new (low-risk chest pain pathways; CVD in females; oxygen in the setting of MI)

Cardiovascular disease and COVID-19(external link), 2020


heart check

Heart check

Heart Foundation, NZ

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Bryan Frost, FRNZCGP, Morrinsville

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