See the Infographic: Heart Disease by the Numbers »

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 and what you can do to avoid becoming a statistic.


You may picture an overweight, middle-aged man clutching his chest when you think of heart disease. But, according to the numbers, that image isn’t telling the whole story. In fact, heart disease is responsible for the most deaths worldwide for both men and women of all races. 

Coronary artery disease, a blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, is the most common type of heart disease. About 600,000 people in the United States die from heart disease every year—that’s one in four deaths. Every year, 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Fifteen percent of people who have a heart attack will die from it.

Heart disease affects whites and African Americans the most, accounting for 24.3 and 24.1 percent of deaths, respectively. Asians and Pacific Islanders are at third-highest risk for a heart disease-related death, at 22.5 percent. It accounts for 20.8 percent of deaths in the Hispanic community, and 17.9 percent in American Indians and Alaska Natives.


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

However, more women than men have died from heart disease each year for the past 30 years. And women are more likely than men to die after their first heart attack.

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

Worldwide Facts

Over 80 percent of the world's deaths from heart disease occur in low- and middle-income countries. The top five countries with the highest rates of heart disease deaths are:

  1. Russia
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Romania
  4. Hungary
  5. Argentina

The top five countries with the lowest rates of heart disease deaths are:

  1. France
  2. Australia
  3. Switzerland
  4. Japan
  5. Israel

This may surprise you, given that the French diet is high in dairy, fats, and red meat—factors that are known to increase heart disease risk. Scientists aren’t sure why France is at the top of the healthy heart list, but one 2005 study suggested that high dietary fiber intake may help offset harmful effects.

Not surprisingly, the Southeast—where the 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. The deadliest states include:

  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • Oklahoma
  • West Virginia
  • Louisiana
  • Arkansas
  • Tennessee
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Ohio

Medical Costs and Care

The number of people who go to the hospital for heart disease every year is about 3.7 million. On average, these people stay in the hospital for 4.6 days. And a whopping 12.4 million people make heart disease-related visits to their physicians every year.

All those doctor visits and hospital stays add up—not to mention the cost of treatment. The total estimated economic cost of heart disease is about $313 billion. That’s $192 billion in direct health expenditures, and $121 billion in indirect costs (mortality).

And that’s not including the $135 million that the American Heart Association (AHA) spends on cardiovascular disease and stroke research each year.

Risk Factors

Having just one risk factor for heart disease doubles your risk for heart disease. It’s estimated that about half of all adults have at least one risk factor. Do you have any of these?: 

  • high blood pressure: Seventy-five percent of people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. And half of adults with hypertension don’t have it under control.
  • high cholesterol: People with high cholesterol are twice as likely to develop heart disease as people with normal cholesterol levels are.
  • diabetes: People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease as people who don’t have it.
  • depression: People with depression are 25 to 40 percent more likely to die from heart disease than people without depression.
  • obesity: Coronary artery disease is present 10 times more often in people who are obese. Obesity means a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. Twenty percent of children over age 5 and 35 percent of adults are considered obese.

Certain behaviors also put you at risk for heart disease, including:

  • smoking: People who smoke are two to four times as likely to develop heart disease as non-smokers.
  • eating a poor diet: People with a diet high in saturated fat are 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease than people who eat a healthy, low-fat diet.
  • not exercising: People who don’t exercise are 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease than people who exercise regularly.
  • drinking alcohol excessively: People who binge drink or drink heavily are two times more likely to have a fatal heart attack as people who don’t.


The good news is that controlling these risk factors could reduce risk of heart attack or stroke by more than 80 percent. Follow these six simple tips to keep your ticker ticking:

1. Drink no more than one to two 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).

2. Eat a diet that’s low in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar, and high in fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, and dark chocolate.

3. Exercise at moderate intensity. That means 30 minutes a day, five days a week 

4. Limit stress. Try meditating, having a sense of humor, spending time with people you love, getting enough sleep, and seek counseling if you need it.

5. Quit smoking today—no excuses.

6. Control your blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and weight.