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 the number one health threat in the world.

See the numbers behind this condition, what the risk factors are, and how to prevent heart disease.

Who is at risk?

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

As of 2016, 28.2 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with heart disease. In 2015, nearly 634,000 people died of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death.

According to the American Heart Association, approximately every 40 seconds an American will have a heart attack. The estimated annual incidence of heart attacks in the United States is 720,000 new attacks and 335,000 recurrent attacks.

About 14 percent 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 accounts for 1 in 7 U.S. deaths, killing over 366,800 people a year.

In African Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher than in white Americans.

In 2015, death rates from heart disease were highest among black males at 258.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. people. That compared to 211.2 deaths per 100,000 for white males. The death rates for black women were 165.7 per 100,000 and 132.4 per 100,000 for white women.

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

However, more women than men have died from cardiovascular disease each year since 1984. According to the American Heart Association, 26 percent of women will die within a year of a heart attack compared with just 19 percent of men.

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

Why is this? Possibly because their doctors misdiagnose them. Or, women ignore or misinterpret their heart attack signs, such as:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea, 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, and back or jaw pain.

The Southeast — where the common diet is high in saturated fats and salty foods, and people have higher obesity rates — has the highest cardiovascular death rate in the United States.

As of 2016, the deadliest states are:

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Tennessee
  • Missouri

What are the risk factors?

You’re twice as likely to get heart disease even if you only have one risk factor for it. It’s estimated that about half of all adults have at least one risk factor.

These are some of the more common ones:

  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, has long been recognized as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • High cholesterol. People with high cholesterol are twice as likely to develop heart disease as people with normal cholesterol levels are.
  • Diabetes. Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 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 percent greater risk of developing coronary artery disease.
  • Obesity. Obesity and being overweight are linked to several factors that increase one’s 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 out of every 4 deaths from it.
  • 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. A Cleveland Clinic study showed only one-third of Americans knew that someone with heart disease needs to exercise the same amount as someone without heart disease.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively. Researchers have found that heavy alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and congestive heart failure.


The good news is that controlling these risk factors can reduce a person’s risk for a heart attack and stroke by up to 80 percent, meaning that it’s preventable.

Follow these six simple tips to keep your ticker ticking:

  • Drink 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), 4 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. That means 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 for quitting here.
  • Work with your doctor to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and weight.

How much does it cost?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of emergency room visits in 2015 where the principal hospital-discharge diagnosis was heart disease was 712,000. A whopping 15.5 million people made heart disease-related visits to their doctors that year.

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

Heart attacks ($12.1 billion) and coronary heart disease ($9 billion) were 2 of the 10 most expensive conditions treated in U.S. hospitals in 2013.

By 2035, more than 130 million U.S. adults 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 projected to reach $748.7 billion and indirect costs estimated to reach $368 billion.