Monitoring Health Care in America

Quarterly Fact Sheet – March 1996

Spotlight on: Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, accounting for over 734,000 deaths in 1994, despite the fact that death rates from heart disease have actually dropped nearly every year since 1950. Nearly 633 years of potential life were lost for every 100,000 persons under age 65 years in 1993. Only cancer and accidental deaths account for more years of potential life lost. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all men aged 45-64 years and 65 years and over, and for all women aged 65 years and over. Death rates from heart disease are greater for men than for women, and greater for white persons than for black persons.

Nearly 22.3 million Americans, or almost 9 percent of the population, suffer from heart disease according to 1994 data. One out of three white persons aged 65 years and over and one out of five black persons in the same age group suffer from heart disease. The South has the greatest prevalence of heart disease (over 9 percent of the population), and the West has the lowest prevalence of heart disease (under 8 percent of the population).

Hospital visits

In 1993 there were nearly 4 million hospital discharges for inpatients diagnosed with heart disease. An estimated 875,000 of these hospitalizations were due to congestive heart failure; 745,000 were from heart attacks; 549,000 from cardiac dysrhythmias; and 492,000 from coronary atherosclerosis. Patients with heart disease spent an average of 6.3 days in the hospital in 1993, compared with 9.5 days in 1980. The average length of stay in 1993 for heart attack victims was 7.4 days, and for patients with cardiac dysrhythmias the average length of stay was 4.8 days.

Over 4.4 million surgical procedures were performed on the cardiovascular system in 1993. More than half of these procedures were performed on patients aged 65 years and over and nearly 3.8 million were performed on patients aged 45 years and over. The most common procedure was cardiac catheterization (over 1 million performed annually), followed by coronary artery bypass grafts (485,000), removal of coronary artery obstruction, including angioplasty (398,000), and hemodialysis (328,000).

In addition, an estimated 646,000 visits to hospital emergency departments were for symptoms referable to the cardiovascular system. Over 11.1 million electrocardiograms (EKGs) were performed on these patients. Another 202,000 cardiovascular-related visits were made to hospital outpatient departments in 1993, where 156,000 EKGs were performed.

Doctor visits

Nearly 12.2 million visits were made to physicians specializing in cardiology in 1993, with over 18.5 million EKGs performed. . . . Cardizem and Procardia, two antianginal agents, were the 8th and 11th most frequently prescribed drugs during ambulatory care visits in 1993. There were nearly 9 million mentions of Cardizem at these visits (1 percent of all visits), and another 7.6 million mentions of Procardia. Vasotec, an antihypertensive agent, was the 14th most frequently prescribed drug, mentioned over 7 million times. Overall, 14 percent of drug mentions were related to cardiovascular therapy.

For further information about “Monitoring Health Care in America” contact the NCHS office of Public Affairs at 301-458-4800 or via e-mail at

Data Sources

Monthly Vital Statistics Report

Annual Summary of Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: United States, 1994. Vol. 43 No. 13. 42 pp. (PHS) 95-1120 [PDF – 523 KB]

Vital and Health Statistics Series Report

Series 10, No. 193, Current Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, 1994

Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics

No. 271. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1993 Emergency Department Summary. 16 pp. (PHS) 96-1250. [PDF – 199 KB]

No. 270. National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1993 Summary. 20 pp. (PHS) 96-1250 [PDF – 262 KB]

No. 264. 1993 Summary: National Hospital Discharge Survey. 12 pp. (PHS) 95-1250 [PDF – 108 KB]

No. 248. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1992. Outpatient Department Summary.