Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 610,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnic and racial groups. As a category, cardiovascular disease includes coronary artery disease (CAD), cerebro-vascular disease (stroke), hypertension (HTN) and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). In most cases, the underlying pathologic condition is atherosclerosis.

Plaque Build Up in ArteryAtherosclerosis is synonymous with arteriosclerosis and ‘hardening of the arteries’. This is a complex process where the blood vessel wall becomes inflamed and over time cholesterol plaques can form which leads to blockage or narrowing of the artery. When the blockage results in decreased blood flow to an organ, damage can occur. In the case of loss of blood flow in a coronary artery feeding the heart, the result is heart attack.

As plaque builds up in the artery of a person with heart disease, the inside of the artery  narrows which leads to reduced blood flow over time.

Heart disease Incidence and Deaths Vary By Geography

During 2008-2010, death rates due to heart disease were highest in the South and lowest in the West.  Below is a map showing the prevalence of heart disease across the United States.

Heart Disease Death Rates 2011-2013

Americans at Risk for Heart Disease

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.7

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use