In one way or another, coronary artery disease (CAD), or heart disease, affects all Americans, as it’s the leading cause of death for both men* (assigned male at birth) and women* (assigned female at birth) in the United States.1 Although heart disease is sometimes considered a "man's disease," around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States.
Heart disease may affect you, a family member, or a friend. But if you think you’re not at risk for heart disease because you don’t fit the stereotype of an older man experiencing a massive heart attack, you may have a false sense of security.
Men and women
Half the men and almost two-thirds of the women suddenly die of heart disease have no previous warning signs. You may still be at risk for heart disease despite no symptoms.
Heart disease affects the arteries in your heart, which build up with plaque and become narrow, decreasing the flow of blood to your heart. This is called atherosclerosis and can lead to chest pain (angina) or, in some cases, a heart attack.
Old, young, and in between
Heart disease can affect people of all ages. Generally, the risk of heart disease increases as you age.
- The risk starts to climb for men at about age 45 when 1 out of every 100 men develops signs of heart disease. By age 55, the risk has doubled to about 2 out of every 100 men. It continues to increase until, by age 85, about 7.4 out of every 100 men have heart disease.
- For women, heart disease also climbs with age, but the trend begins about 10 years later than in men, around the onset of menopause.
- More and more young people are affected by heart disease, partly because diabetes and childhood obesity are rising. Children with obesity are more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Between 2017–2020, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents ages 2–19 was 19.7% and affected about 14.7 million children and adolescents in the U.S.2
All ethnicities – some more at risk than others
According to the CDC, heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in every ethnic group studied in the U.S.: white, African American, South Asian, Hispanic, and Native American.3
However, the U.S. heart disease death rate among African Americans is higher than all other ethnic groups,4 and African American women ages 55–64 are twice as likely as white women to have a heart attack and 35% more likely to suffer from heart disease.5
All socioeconomic levels – some more at risk than others
A lower socioeconomic status is associated with increased chronic stress, possibly leading to heart problems.6 Stress management is important for everyone. A lower socioeconomic status is also linked to a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates and poorer healthcare and health insurance access. While healthcare and insurance access may not always be in our control, many things are, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and being physically active.
What to do about it
You can take steps to reduce your odds of developing heart disease and having a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
While everyone is at risk for heart disease, certain factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing the disease. This is why it’s important to know your individual level of risk and what you can do about it.
Everyone is at risk for heart disease, so you need to know your individual risk factors and what to do about them.
*The term “men” in the context of “cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB) who have a male biological reproductive system, which includes a penis, scrotum, testes, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, and seminal vesicles.
*The term “women” in the context of “women’s cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who have a female biological reproductive system, which includes a vagina, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, accessory glands, and external genital organs.