Risk Factors, Symptoms and Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death among most American adults, regardless of sex, race, or ethnicity, killing more than 610,000 each year. That’s one in every four deaths. Don’t risk becoming another statistic; find out if you are at risk.


The risk factors for heart disease.

Risk factors you can’t control include age, ethnicity, and heredity—you could be genetically predisposed to developing heart disease. But heart disease can also be caused by things you can control or change.

  • Behaviors such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol
  • Poor diet, such as fast foods or processed foods containing trans fats or saturated fats, or foods with too much salt or sugar
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes
  • Inactivity, lack of exercise, or other controllable factors

If you haven’t had your heart checked recently, do so. And if you are at risk for heart disease, talk with a healthcare provider to learn what you can do about it.


Assess your risk of heart attack or coronary disease.

Learn your risk.


The most common types of heart disease:

  • Aneurysm—A bulged or weakened blood vessel that can rupture.
  • Angina—Pain in the chest caused by reduced blood supply to the heart.
  • Arrhythmia—An irregular heartbeat.
  • Atherosclerosis—Caused by fatty deposit buildup in vessels, restricting blood flow.
  • Cerebrovascular disease—Impedes flow of blood to the brain.
  • Congenital heart disease—Malformation of the heart’s structures at birth.
  • Coronary artery disease—Caused by narrowing arteries and blockage of blood vessels supplying the heart; leads to angina or heart attack.
  • Heart attack—Myocardial infarction, caused by stoppage of blood supply to the heart.
  • Heart failure—A chronic condition that happens when heart muscles are too damaged to adequately pump blood throughout the body.
  • Hypertension—High blood pressure that can scar, narrow, or harden arteries.
  • Inflammatory heart disease—Caused by infection or toxins; inflames heart muscles.
  • Ischemic heart disease—Caused by narrowing of the arteries, decreasing blood supply to the heart.
  • Pericardial disease—Inflammation or fluid accumulation around the sac that encases the heart.
  • Peripheral arterial disease—Caused by atherosclerosis, resulting in pain in the legs.
  • Rheumatic heart disease—Caused by rheumatic fever; damages heart valves.
  • Stroke—Caused by interrupted blood supply to the brain, depriving the brain of oxygen.
  • Transient ischemic attack—Brief blockage of blood to the brain, causing temporary numbness or weakness.
  • Valvular heart disease—Caused by infection or rheumatic fever, narrowing of valves, leakage, or improper closure.

Symptoms of heart disease.

  • Angina: dull or heavy-to-sharp chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain in the neck/jaw/throat (women)
  • Pain in the upper back or abdomen
  • Arrhythmia: fluttering feelings or palpitations
  • Heart failure: shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of extremities
  • Heart attack: heavy-to-sharp chest pain or discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, nausea/vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper-body discomfort, shortness of breath
  • Stroke: weakness, paralysis, trouble speaking or understanding speech, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, or sudden and severe headache

Preventing heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any health conditions you may have. Here are three links to important CDCP information.


The direct benefits of physical activity to your health.

Major research findings in government studies offer strong evidence that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many adverse health outcomes and improve cardiorespiratory and metabolic health as well as life expectancy, energy levels, and spiritual and emotional well-being. Click these links to learn more.


The facts: heart disease in men.

Heart Disease Death Rates in Men, 2011-2013 Age adjusted average annual deaths per 100,000 among men ages 35 and older, by county. Rates range from 108.9 to 1262.6 per 100,000. The map shows that concentrations of counties with the highest heart disease death rates - meaning the top quintile - are located primarily in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, southern Georgia, eastern Kentucky, and parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death among U.S. men.
  • About 8.5 percent of all Caucasian men, 7.9 percent of African-American men, and 6.3 percent of Mexican-American men have coronary heart disease.
  • 50 percent of men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no symptoms.
  • Between 70 percent and 89 percent of sudden cardiac events occur in men.

The facts: heart disease in women.

Heart Disease Death Rates in Women, 2011-2013 Age adjusted average annual deaths per 100,000 among women ages 35 and older, by county. Rates range from 67.6 to 931.9 per 100,000. The map shows that concentrations of counties with the highest heart disease death rates - meaning the top quintile - are located primarily in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, southern Georgia, eastern Kentucky, northeastern Nevada, and parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death among U.S. women.
  • About 8.5 percent of all Caucasian women, 7.6 percent of African-American women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women have coronary heart disease.
  • 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no symptoms.
  • Between 21 percent and 30 percent of sudden cardiac events occur in women.

CDC public health efforts.

CDC supports the efforts of State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Chronic Diseases. It’s a nationwide program to reduce the risk factors associated with childhood and adult obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Through a federal grant, all 50 states and the District of Columbia receive funds to help prevent these chronic diseases—and to make healthy living easier for all Americans. Learn more .

The WISEWOMAN program is administered through CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP). It provides low-income, underinsured, or uninsured women with chronic-disease risk-factor screening, lifestyle programs, and referral services in an effort to prevent cardiovascular disease. The priority age group is women ages 40 to 64. Learn more .

Million Hearts is another nationwide initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides Americans with information about hypertension and its link to heart disease, as well as the prevention or management of the condition, the costs and consequences, and valuable data and reports. Learn more .


Keys to preventing heart disease.

  • Check cholesterol level—Once every five years, minimum.
  • Control blood pressure—Check at least once every two years.
  • Manage diabetes—Monitor your blood-sugar levels; consider lifestyle changes.
  • Take your medicine(s)—Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and never stop taking medicine without first consulting your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.
  • Talk with your healthcare team—Work together to prevent or treat the medical conditions that lead to heart disease.
  • Get the latest information—Read the report from womenshealth.gov.

How to manage stress.

According to the American Heart Association, worry, anxiety, and negative emotions impact the body’s stress response. This can become a problem when it constantly signals danger about issues that aren’t necessarily a threat, to the point of overwhelming our health, well-being, or clear thinking—even our cardiovascular systems.

Learn AHA’s stress-management techniques here .


Heart-smart living habits.

  • Healthy diet—Learn about DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), which offers the latest government guidelines for healthy eating, here .
  • Healthy weight—Determine the best weight for your body type and height using the CDC’s Adult Body Mass Index Calculator.
  • Physical activity—It is recommended that you spend a minimum of 30 minutes per day walking, stretching, bicycling, or doing aerobic exercise.
  • No smoking—Quit now. Tobacco harms every bodily organ, especially the heart and blood vessels.
  • Limit alcohol use—Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.

More information is available here:

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