Heart Disease Home > Facts About Heart Disease

Knowing key facts about heart disease can help you understand its impact. Approximately 13 million people in the United States have heart disease, and more than a half-million Americans die from it every year. By understanding the risk factors you may have, you can make better lifestyle choices that can help you prevent heart disease or lessen its impact.

Heart Disease: An Overview of the Facts

"Heart disease" refers to diseases that only occur in the heart and in the blood vessel system within it. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, which is the focus of this article. Throughout this article, we will use the phrase "heart disease" to refer specifically to coronary heart disease.
 
(Click Heart Diseases to learn about other types of this disease.)
 

General Facts About Heart Disease

The following is some general information about this condition:
 
  • About 13 million people in the United States have heart disease. It is the number one killer of both men and women. Each year, more than half a million Americans die from it.
     
  • Other names for this condition include coronary artery disease, CAD, and ischemic heart disease.
     
  • Heart disease is caused by the thickening and hardening of the inside walls of the coronary arteries (a condition called atherosclerosis). The arteries harden and become narrow due to the buildup of plaque on the inner walls, which decreases the oxygen supply to the heart muscle. When blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart are reduced or cut off, you can develop angina or have a heart attack.
     
  • Plaque in the coronary arteries can be hard and stable. Hard plaque causes the artery walls to thicken and harden, and may cause angina (chest pain). In other cases, plaque in the coronary arteries is soft and unstable. Soft plaque is more likely to break apart and cause blood clots. This can lead to a heart attack.
     
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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