It’s the thing more than 28 million of us have, but nobody wants—heart disease. It’s the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women, so you should know all the facts about heart disease. Developing heart disease may be concerning to you, but understanding heart disease facts can help, especially if you're not 100 percent sure about what goes into having a healthy heart.
So, to get you started, here’s a list of the top 5 facts about heart disease you may or may not know.
Heart Disease Fact 1: It is Not One Disease
One of the heart disease facts that may surprise you is that cardiovascular disease is actually a group of diseases. But all of the types of heart disease affect your heart and blood vessels.
Many of them are related to atherosclerosis, which develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. This is also referred to as a hardening of the arteries.
Heart Disease Fact 2: There Are 8 Common Types
If you have heart disease it could mean you have any one of the following types.
- 1. Coronary artery disease: Your heart's major blood vessels are damaged
- 3. Cardiac arrest: You suddenly lose heart function, breathing and consciousness
- 4. Congestive heart failure: A chronic condition; your heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should
- 5. Arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat, either too fast or too slow
- 6. Peripheral artery disease: Narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to your limbs
- 7. Stroke: Your brain is damaged from an interruption of its blood supply
- 8. Congenital heart disease: An abnormality in your heart that develops before birth
Heart Disease Fact 3: Biggest Risk Factors
The two most commonly mentioned risk factors for heart disease are obesity and smoking. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol, also are key heart disease risk factors. Here’s a bonus fact about heart disease that no one wants to hear—about half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put you at a higher risk for heart disease, including diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.
One additional heart disease fact to consider: You can control most of these risk factors.
Heart Disease Fact 4: Most Common Symptoms
Your symptoms will vary depending on the type of heart disease you have. For many people, chest discomfort is one of the first signs. It may first show up during routine daily activities and then go away. Women may even experience it while they’re sleeping or resting. You also could develop swollen feet or ankles or palpitations.If you ignore the initial signs of heart disease, a heart attack is typically what brings it to light. If you’re having a heart attack you may experience some or all of these symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away after a few minutes
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
- Weakness, light-headedness, nausea
- Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
According to the American Heart Association, most people survive their first heart attack. They also return to their daily activities. But having a heart attack does mean you have to make some changes.
Heart Disease Fact 5: It Does Not Discriminate
Of all the heart disease facts that we’ve mentioned so far, this one is the most concerning. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. It also is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States.
This chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists, by ethnicity, the percentages of all deaths caused by heart disease in 2008.
Another fact about heart disease to note is that men accounted for more than half of the heart disease-related deaths in 2015. And of American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease deaths are second only to cancer.
Seeing facts about heart disease can be scary. They may even have you thinking about what you can do to decrease your risk. Exercise and a healthy diet emphasizing vegetables, whole grains, and legumes may help slow or even reverse heart disease. That’s a good place to start. Another thing you can do is to download our guide, Heart Disease Facts That Could Change Your Life.