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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a term that includes several more specific heart conditions. The most common heart disease in the US is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of plaque. The narrowing and buildup of plaques is called atherosclerosis. Plaques are a mixture of fatty and other substances including cholesterol and other lipids. Blood flow to the heart is reduced, which reduces oxygen to the heart muscle. This can lead to heart attack. Other heart conditions include angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Find out more about heart diseases.

What are symptoms of heart attack?

The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat or experiencing nausea or light–headedness.

What should a bystander do if they think someone is having a heart attack?

If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 9–1–1 immediately.

Why is there a need to act fast?

Death or permanent disability can result from a heart attack. The risk of death or permanent damage can be reduced with timely treatment. Some newer treatments need to be given soon after the onset of a heart attack in order to be effective. It is important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and act right away.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Some conditions as well as some lifestyle factors can put people at a higher risk for heart disease. The most important modifiable risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and obesity. In principle, all persons can take steps to lower their risk for heart disease. For more information about these risk factors, please see our section on risk factors.

What can you do to reduce your risk?

Persons can take steps to lower their risk of developing heart disease by preventing or treating and controlling high blood pressure, preventing or treating and controlling high blood cholesterol, by not using tobacco, by preventing or controlling diabetes, and by maintaining adequate physical activity, weight, and a healthy diet. Persons being treated for conditions or risk factors should follow the guidance of their health care providers. See our section on heart disease prevention.

What is the burden of heart disease in America?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. More than 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year. That is 1 in every 4 of all U.S. deaths. In addition, heart disease is a leading cause of disability in the U.S. See more statistical information.

What is the cost of heart disease for our nation?

Together, heart disease and stroke are among the most widespread and costly health problems facing the nation today, accounting for more than $312.6 billion* in health care expenditures and lost productivity annually—and these costs are rising.

What is CDC doing to address heart disease?

CDC has several programs that address heart disease. These are mostly located in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. They include activities with other CDC components, other federal agencies, state health departments, and local and tribal organizations. For more information on these programs, please see our CDC Addresses Heart Disease section.


*Note: In 2011, the American Heart Association (AHA) published two sets of costs for cardiovascular disease data; one that included a limited set of direct costs ($312.6 billion), and one that projected future costs ($444 billion). AHA has since decided to only track the direct cost estimate. The reported direct medical expenses are lower than previously reported estimates because they no longer include nursing home costs or loss of productivity from morbidity from indirect costs. This new, more conservative method reflects actual costs and minimizes the risk of double counting. While lower than previous reported estimates, these figures remain a substantial portion of our nation’s health care expenditures, and do not show any signs of decreasing.

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