The study of more than 71,000 men and women, which was conducted by Oxford University, showed that the shortfall in identifying people at high risk is greatest when it comes to middle-aged men.
"The aim of our study was to estimate how many people were likely to develop CVD over the next ten years" said lead author Professor Andrew Neil from the Division of Public Health and Primary Care.
"Our findings reinforce the need for a national CVD risk assessment programme and we welcome the announcement by the Department of Health earlier this year that plans are being put in place to institute primary care checks for people aged from 40 to 74," he added.
he study suggests that 7.9 million people in the UK have already been diagnosed with CVD or have a medically recognised risk of developing the disease in the next ten years.
However, there are a further 2.8 million men and 900,000 women who face a high risk but have not been diagnosed.
This means that they have not received the treatment and advice that could prevent them from developing CVD.
For the study, Neil and his colleagues screened 71,037 people aged 18 and over in 35 towns and cities in England, Wales and Scotland.
They found that overall, 20 per cent of the men and six per cent of the women had a high risk of developing CVD over the next ten years. The risk was much higher in the over 50 age group.
"Our research found that 75 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women who were over 50 already had CVD or diabetes, were taking cholesterol or blood pressure drugs or were at high risk of developing CVD" said Neil.
"We were reassured to discover that 60 per cent of them had already been identified by their family doctor or another primary health care professional. However, the challenge now is to identify the other 40 per cent who are at high risk of developing the disease but remain undiagnosed.
"When we looked at gender differences in this age group, we found that only 47 per cent of men had been identified as having a high CVD risk, considerably lower than the 72 per cent of women identified, possibly because women are more likely to seek medical advice.
"These figures suggest that there is significant unmet need in the UK and points to the need for a national assessment programme to detect those individuals who haven't already been identified," he added.
The study is published in the September issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice.