We’ve all heard the dire message that heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. But do we really know the actual number of Americans that suffer from coronary disease and actually die each year due to the disease? Do we know the signs and symptoms if someone we know, or even if we, are having a heart attack? We hear a lot about living a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent heart disease; but often we think that improving our lifestyle is too overwhelming to take on, when really the steps are simple and effective.
The statistics are shocking. The facts are eye-opening. The precautions are simple.
America’s Heart Disease Burden
Not only does coronary disease cost a huge number of lives in the United States, it is also a very expensive drain on our health care system. Each year, billions of dollars are spent on preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. And, with an aging population, the numbers are only going to increase.
Here are some of the statistics:
- About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year.
- One in every four deaths is caused by some form of cardiovascular disease.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
- More than half of the deaths due to heart disease were men.
- Every year about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack; and 205,000 are those who had a previous heart attack.
- Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.
Deaths Vary by Ethnicity
Heart disease does not play favorites. It affects all ethnic groups significantly and relatively similiarly. There is no one particular ethnic group in the United States that can claim any significant protection from heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians. For American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer.
Below are the percentages of all deaths caused by heart disease in 2008, listed by ethnicity.
Percent of Deaths by Ethnic Group
- American Indians or Alaskan Natives 18.0
- Hispanics 20.8
- Asians or Pacific Islanders 23.2
- African Americans 24.5
- Caucasians 25.1
Heart Attack Symptoms – Early Action Is Key
Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack is key to preventing death, but many people don’t know the signs. Often we mistake the warning signs as something else and ignore them. Getting medical attention is pertinent to preventing further damages to heart muscle and even death.
Here are some of the warning signs:
- In a 2005 survey, most respondents—92 percent—recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack. Only 27 percent were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a heart attack.
- About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.
- Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms:
- 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.
Americans at RiskHigh blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Protect Your Heart
Lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol will reduce your risk of dying of heart disease.
Here are some tips to protect your heart:
- Follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on your medications.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt; low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol; and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Take a brisk 10-minute walk, three times a day, five days a week.
- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Visit www.cdc.gov/tobacco and www.smokefree.gov for tips on quitting.
*CDC. Million Hearts: strategies to reduce the prevalence of leading cardiovascular disease risk factors. United States, 2011. MMWR2011;60(36):1248–51.