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Heart Disease

In 2003, heart disease was the leading cause of death for women. Heart disease describes any disorder that prevents the heart from functioning normally. The most common cause of heart disease is coronary heart disease, in which the arteries of the heart slowly narrow, reducing blood flow. Risk factors include obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, and old age. Although some risk factors cannot be modified, a diet low in saturated fat and full of fruits and vegetables can help lessen or eliminate several of these risk factors.

In 2004, women under 45 years of age had a higher rate than their male counterparts (50.3 versus 39.4 per 1,000 population, respectively). However, men had a slightly higher overall rate of heart disease than women. Rates of heart disease among both men and women increased substantially with age and were highest among those 75 years and older, which demonstrates the chronic nature of the disease.

Rates of heart disease among women differ by race and ethnicity. In 2004, the highest rate occurred among non-Hispanic White women (125.2 per 1,000), followed by non-Hispanic Black women (98.3 per 1,000); Asian women had the lowest rate (35.8 per 1,000). Although non-Hispanic White women experience the highest rates of heart disease, deaths from heart disease are highest among non-Hispanic Black women. In order to increase awareness about the risks of heart disease, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a campaign in 2003 called “The Heart Truth.” The red dress that represents the campaign is now commonly recognized as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.