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About Heart Disease & Stroke

Risk Factors

We're all at risk for heart disease and stroke. However, certain groups—including African Americans and older individuals—are at higher risk than others. With 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes happening every year in the United States, it's important to know the risks.

Heart Disease and Age

Many people mistakenly think of heart disease and stroke as conditions that only affect older adults. However, a large number of younger people suffer heart attacks and strokes. About 150,000 people who died from cardiovascular disease in 2009 were younger than age 65.

Heart Disease and Race

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States for adults of all races. However, there are big differences in the rates of heart disease and stroke between different racial and ethnic groups. Some minority groups are more likely to be affected by heart disease and stroke than others—which contributes to lower life expectancy found among minorities.

As of 2007, African American men were 30% more likely to die from heart disease than were non-Hispanic white men. African American adults of both genders are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and 10% less likely than their white counterparts to have their blood pressure under control. African Americans also have the highest rate of high blood pressure of all population groups, and they tend to develop it earlier in life than others.

Resources specific to supporting African Americans are below:

Heart Disease and Gender

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, killing nearly 422,000 each year. Following a heart attack, approximately 1 in 4 women will die within the first year, compared to 1 in 5 men.

Heart Disease and Income

Men and women of all economic backgrounds are at risk for heart disease and stroke. However, individuals with low incomes are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, and stroke than their high-income peers.

This discrepancy is due to numerous factors, including early life environment, quality of health education, availability of nutritious food, proximity to recreational facilities, cultural and financial barriers to seeking treatment, and accessibility of cardiovascular care.

Heart Disease and Behavioral Health

Depression has been found to be a risk factor for development of heart disease. Depression occurs in up to 20% of people with heart disease, and has been found to be a risk factor also for subsequent heart attack, the need for cardiac procedures, hospitalization, and mortality. Fortunately, depression in patients with heart disease responds well to treatment with either medication or counseling.


  • People with severe mental disorders are 25 percent to 40 percent more prone to die from heart disease than the general population.
  • Over 80% of individuals with serious mental illness are overweight or obese, contributing to them dying at three times the rate of the overall population.
  • Seventy-five percent of individuals with behavioral health problems smoke cigarettes, as compared to 23 percent of the general population.
  • Half of all deaths from smoking occur among individuals with mental and substance use disorders.
  • New research (As of March 26, 2013) suggest that mental health may play a bigger role in whether a patient dies from heart disease or not. The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that depression and anxiety considerably raise the risk of death in patients with heart disease.

For more information about mental health, visit

Stroke and Race and Ethnicity

Stroke is among the five leading causes of death for people of all races and ethnicities. But the risk of having a stroke varies. Compared to whites, African Americans are at nearly twice the risk of having a first stroke. Hispanic Americans' risk falls between the two. Moreover, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to die following a stroke than are whites.

Stroke and Geography

The country's highest death rates due to stroke are in the southeastern United States.

Americans at Risk

Approximately 49% of adults have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Below is the percentage of U.S. adults with heart disease and stroke risk factors in 2005–2006.

Risk Factor %
Inactivity 39.5
Obesity 33.9
High Blood Pressure 30.5
Cigarette Smoking 20.8
High Cholesterol 15.6
Diabetes 10.1

Key Facts

Million Hearts® / AHA Tool

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is proud to join forces with Million Hearts® to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Heart Attack Risk Calculator

Discover your 10-year risk of heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease… and what you can do about it.

Calculate My Risk Exit icon.

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