heart and stethoscope

Getting to the Heart of it:

Understanding Heart Disease

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.
Do you know the signs?


Every 60 seconds, more than one person in the United States dies from a heart disease-related event.1 Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.2

In this and subsequent articles, we’ll explore heart disease in depth by asking:

  • What is heart disease?
  • What are the signs?
  • What are the risk factors?
  • Which lifestyle habits prevent heart disease?
  • How to beat the odds of contracting the disease in your lifetime.

Heart disease is a common health term that includes numerous heart-related problems and conditions, ranging from an abnormal heartbeat detected at birth to the most common form of heart disease: coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease occurs when a plaque-like substance made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other elements in the blood, builds up inside the coronary arteries.

Plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis. Plaque can thicken, reduce, or completely block blood flow through an artery. Oftentimes, a plaque may burst causing a blood clot to form, blocking the artery. Or, a plaque may break off and travel in the body causing a blockage elsewhere. When blockage occurs in a blood vessel that feeds the heart, the result is a heart attack or, sudden cardiac death. 3

While coronary artery disease is the most common condition, other heart problems include: irregular heart beat (arrhythmia), heart valve problems, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart failure.4

For decades, heart disease has been the leading cause of death for Americans. 7 In 2018, heart disease claimed the lives of about 840,678 deaths.5 More than a third of Americans will eventually die from heart disease.6

Fast Facts About Heart Disease 1

  • Almost 30% of American adults have elevated or stage 1 high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure, as well as kidney disease.
  • About half of Americans (49%) fulfill at least one of three risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
  • Nearly one in every 100 men develops signs of heart disease by the age of 45. By age 55, the risk doubles.
  • Women have a greater risk of dying from heart disease than from all cancers combined.
Neon heart light at night

Know the Signs of Heart Disease

Symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person and any one of these symptoms is a red flag: 7

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue often proceed a heart attack by a couple weeks.
  • During an attack, pain may be felt in the back, neck, jaw, or arms.
  • Women often experience stomach pain masked as indigestion.
  • Nausea and vomiting (sometimes mistaken for food poisoning or the stomach flu)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath, especially in older people
  • Feelings of restlessness, sweatiness, anxiety or a sense of impending doom
  • A blueish color in the lips, hands or feet
  • Heavy pounding of the heart or abnormal heart rhythms
  • Loss of consciousness (This can be the first symptom of a heart attack!)
  • Disorientation resembling a stroke may occur in older people.


If you suspect or someone in your presence is having a heart attack, call 911 IMMEDIATELY!
Every minute you delay can result in more damage to the heart muscle.


Heart disease is more prevalent than cancer and impacts lives by the thousands. The older you get, the greater the probability for a heart condition or problem.

In the second article in this series, we will look at risk factors and how to implement lifestyle habits that prevent, rather than promote, the onset of heart disease.


    1. https://www.cdc.gov/datastatistics/index.html
    2. https://healthmetrics.heart.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/At-A-Glance-Heart-Disease-and-Stroke-Statistics-2018.pdf
    3. https://theheartfoundation.org/about-heart-disease-2/
    4. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/docs/ConsumerEd_HeartDisease.pdf
    5. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/137/12/e67
    6. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
    7. https://theheartfoundation.org/about-heart-disease-2/
    8. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fdhdsp%2Fdata_statistics%2Ffact_sheets%2Ffs_women_heart.htm

Information presented by W(h)ealth should not be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Consult a doctor and/or medical professional before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition.

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