Heart disease refers to several conditions that affect a person’s heart and cardiovascular system. Types of heart disease include coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmia, heart valve disease, and heart failure.

CAD is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. It occurs when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries. The plaque buildup reduces blood flow to the heart and can lead to heart attack.

This article discusses heart disease facts and answers the most common questions about heart disease and heart attacks.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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About 805,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack each year. This amounts to someone having a heart attack every 40 seconds.

The vast majority of heart attacks occur in people who have never had one before. Around 200,000 occur in people who have previously had a heart attack.

Of all the heart attacks that occur each year, 1 in 5 is a silent heart attack. This means the person was not aware of having a heart attack but has sustained damage.

In 2017, cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in 868,662 deaths. CVD claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 659,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease each year. This equates to one person dying every 36 seconds from heart disease and amounts to 1 in every 4 deaths per year.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but there are some differences based on age, sex, and ethnicity.

The percentages of all deaths from heart disease by ethnicity, race, and sex in 2015 were as follows:

Group% total deathsIn malesIn females
American Indian or Alaska Native18.3%19.4%17%
Asian American or Pacific Islander21.4%22.9%19.9%
Black (non-Hispanic)23.5%23.9%23.1%
White (non-Hispanic)23.7%24.9%22.5%
Hispanic20.3%20.6%19.9%

In 1999 and 2017, heart disease accounted for 337.4 and 208 deaths per 100,000, respectively, among non-Hispanic Black people. This is more than twice the number of deaths per 100,000 among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the same period. Heart disease accounted for 156.5 and 85.5 deaths per 100,000 in this group.

The rate of death among all groups decreased from 1999 to 2017. However, the death rate due to heart disease decreasing has slowed in more recent years.

Learn more about heart disease in African American populations here.

Males

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among the following groups of males:

  • African American
  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Hispanic
  • white

Learn about the symptoms of heart disease in males here.

Females

In the U.S., heart disease is the second leading cause of death behind cancer for the following groups of females:

  • Asian American
  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Hispanic
  • Pacific Islander

Learn more about heart disease in females here.

Age

Heart disease, particularly heart attack, tends to affect older adults. The average age of the first heart attack is 65.6 years for males and 72 years for females.

The most common cause of heart disease is a buildup of fatty substances on the walls of the blood vessels that travel to the heart.

This buildup occurs in coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attack.

While some heart attacks are intense and sudden, many others start slowly with more subtle symptoms. Symptoms of a heart attack vary and include:

  • chest pain and discomfort
  • pain in one or both arms
  • jaw or neck pain
  • stomach or back pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • dizziness

Additionally, males and females may experience heart attack symptoms differently. According to the American Heart Association, while both are likely to experience chest pain, females are more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms, such as nausea and neck or jaw pain.

Learn more about what a heart attack can feel like here.

Heart attack symptoms last from a few minutes to a few hours and, for some, can evolve over days. They may start and go away with rest and come back intermittently. A heart attack is unlikely to cause chest pain continuously for days.

Learn about the stages of a heart attack here.

The most common type of heart disease in the U.S. is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD restricts blood flow to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack.

Learn about acute coronary syndrome, which describes three types of CAD, here.

About 47% of people in the U.S. have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease, which are:

In addition to these three main risk factors, other factors can also make a person more likely to develop heart disease. Other conditions and lifestyle choices that increase a person’s risk for heart disease include:

  • having diabetes
  • lack of exercise
  • excess alcohol consumption
  • an unbalanced diet
  • having overweight or obesity

There are many steps a person can take to prevent a heart attack and reduce their risk of developing heart disease. These include:

Learn more about preventing heart attack here.

Heart disease has a hefty price tag for the U.S. It cost the country $363 billion each year in 2016 and 2017, including the costs of:

  • healthcare services
  • medicine
  • lost productivity

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

Learn about Medicare coverage of cardiovascular diseases here.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Though the death rate is decreasing, it is still a major, costly health issue.

There are several types of heart disease. The most common is CAD, which can lead to heart attack.

A person can take steps to lower their risk of heart disease through lifestyle changes.