Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, regardless of gender and race. Here are some important facts to know about heart disease and other heart-related conditions.

illustration of an anatomical human heart
Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia and Maya Chastain

Heart disease refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart — from infections to genetic defects and blood-vessel diseases.

Most heart disease can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices, yet it’s still the number one health threat in the world.

See the numbers behind this condition, learn the risk factors, and find out how to prevent heart disease.

Heart disease is responsible for most deaths worldwide for both men and women of all races.

As of 2018, 30.3 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with heart disease. Every year, about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease causes 1 out of every 4 deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately every 40 seconds an American will have a heart attack. Every year, 805,000 Americans have a heart attack, 605,000 of them for the first time.

Infographic by Ruth Basagoitia and Maya Chastain

About 12% of people who have a heart attack will die from it.

Coronary artery disease, a blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, is the most common type of heart disease. Coronary heart disease affects about 18.2 million Americans age 20 and older, and it killed nearly 366,000 in 2017.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for most racial and ethnic groups. In 2015, it was responsible for 23.7% of deaths in white people and 23.5% in Black people.

In 2017, death rates from heart disease in Black men were 202.8 deaths per 100,000 people. That compared to 274.5 deaths per 100,000 for white males. The death rate for Black women was 165.5 per 100,000, and for white women, they were 231.4 per 100,000.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Women are just as likely as men to have a heart attack.

Not as many men die from heart disease each year as women. According to the American Heart Association, 26% of women will die within a year of a heart attack compared with 19% of men.

By 5 years after a heart attack, almost 50% of women die, develop heart failure, or have a stroke compared with 36% of men.

Why is this? It’s possibly because their doctors misdiagnosed their condition. Or women may ignore or misinterpret their heart attack signs, which include:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, or upper stomach
  • lightheadedness or cold sweats

Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • back or jaw pain
Infographic by Ruth Basagoitia and Maya Chastain

The South has some of the highest cardiovascular death rates in the United States.

As reported by the CDC, in 2018 the states with the highest heart disease date rates are:

  • Oklahoma
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • West Virginia
  • Michigan

Having even one risk factor increases your odds of getting heart disease. About half of all adults have at least one of three major risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking.

These are some of the more common heart disease risks:

  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, has long been recognized as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • High cholesterol. Extra cholesterol can build up on artery walls and reduce blood flow to the heart.
  • Diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease as people who don’t have it.
  • Depression. Adults with a depressive disorder or symptoms of depression have a 64% greater risk of developing coronary artery disease.
  • Obesity. Being overweight or obese is linked to several factors that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Certain behaviors also put you at risk for heart disease. These include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and causes approximately 1 in 4 heart disease deaths.
  • Eating a poor diet. A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
  • Not exercising. Even though exercise reduces the risk for heart disease and early death, only about half of Americans get the recommended amount of aerobic activity.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively. Heavy alcohol use can increase the risk for heart attack, heart failure, and death. Excess drinking can damage the heart before symptoms even appear.

The good news is that heart disease is preventable. Controlling these risk factors can reduce a person’s risk for a heart attack and stroke by more than 80%.

Follow these six simple tips to keep your ticker ticking:

  • Have no more than one to two alcoholic drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer (a bottle), 5 ounces of wine (a proper glass), and 1.5 ounces of spirits (a proper shot).
  • Eat a diet that’s free of trans fats, low in saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and sugar, and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, and dark chocolate.
  • Exercise at moderate intensity for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
  • Limit stress. Try meditating, spending time with people you love, getting enough sleep, and seeking counseling if you need it.
  • Quit smoking today. Get help quitting here.
  • Work with your doctor to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and weight.

What are the 4 signs your heart is quietly failing?

Four common early “quiet” symptoms of heart failure include:

  • edema or ankle swelling
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath or coughing
  • reduced stamina (can’t do as much)

Contact a healthcare professional immediately if you have these symptoms.

What to expect in the final days of congestive heart failure?

An individual who progresses to end-stage heart failure is likely to experience:

When is it time for hospice with congestive heart failure?

To be considered for hospice care, an individual must have a life threatening or terminal illness with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live.

For hospice care with congestive heart failure, it may be time to consider hospice if the symptoms interfere with daily living tasks and are lasting. One main symptom that may indicate the need for hospice is exercise intolerance, which makes self-care tasks difficult.

Palliative care is another option for individuals. Available from the point of diagnosis, it provides comfort care and potentially life-extending care.

Your cardiologist can help determine if hospice care or palliative care is appropriate.

What are the signs of worsening heart failure?

Signs that heart failure may be worsening include:

  • dry, hacking cough
  • shortness of breath, even when resting
  • swelling in the lower extremities and lower body
  • rapid weight gain in a short period of time
  • worsening dizziness or confusion
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • increasing difficulty sleeping

According to the CDC, the number of emergency room visits in 2021 for issues related to the heart and blood vessels was nearly 5.4 million. In 2019, 106 million people made heart disease-related visits to their doctors.

Infographic by Ruth Basagoitia and Maya Chastain

All those doctor visits and hospital stays add up — not to mention the cost of treatment.

The cost of caring for cardiovascular disease is more than $351 billion per year. Nearly $214 billion pays for the care of people with heart disease, while more than $137 billion goes to lost productivity.

Heart attack is one of the most expensive conditions treated in U.S. hospitals. Its care costs an estimated $11.5 billion a year.

By 2035, more than 45% of Americans are projected to have some form of cardiovascular disease. Total costs of cardiovascular disease are expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2035, with direct medical costs expected to reach $748.7 billion and indirect costs estimated to reach $368 billion.

Read this article in Spanish.