Preventing America’s leading cause of death

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Grandfather with grandchildren

In fact, it accounts for one out of every four U.S. deaths each year. And about half of all Americans (47%) have at least one key risk factor for developing it. Are you one of them? And if so, do you know what to do to reduce your risk?

“Heart disease” is a blanket term to define several types of heart conditions. In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, blood flow to the heart is constricted and this leads to a heart attack.

Risk factors versus signs and symptoms

While age and family history play a role in heart disease, certain health conditions and behaviors increase your risk for developing it. These risk factors include:

  • diabetes
  • excessive alcohol use
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • obesity
  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • unhealthy diet

These risk factors, however, aren’t signs and symptoms. So people aren’t generally diagnosed with heart disease until something more severe occurs. This could be a heart attack, heart arrhythmia, or even heart failure. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

  • Heart attack symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion or heartburn (common for women), nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
  • Arrhythmia symptoms include fluttery feelings in the chest (palpitations).
  • Heart failure symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or veins in the neck.

Turning those risk factors around

To avoid experiencing any of these conditions and developing heart disease, there are things you can do. Use those risk factors as a guide. See what you can do to decrease or eliminate them by choosing to live healthier.

When you choose to live a healthy lifestyle, you can maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. You can also keep your blood sugar levels normal. A healthy lifestyle means doing the following:

  • Choose healthy meals and snacks.
  • Eat fewer processed foods.
  • Eat foods high in fiber, and low in saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Get physically active (the Surgeon General recommends two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise — even three 10-minute walks a day is enough to improve your health).
  • Limit alcohol consumption (men should have no more than two drinks per day and women no more than one).
  • Limit salt, cholesterol, and sugar intake.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stop smoking (as smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease).

Bonus for members

We’re here to help. Check out one of our Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness centers for personal consultations, classes, and education. You can also visit our Care Management page, or give our Care Management professionals a call at 888.545.4512. Our experienced registered nurses and licensed social workers provide support, education, and coordination of services for all sorts of complex medical needs.

Interested in health and wellness information? Visit the Capital Journal for more articles.

Interested in drug information? Visit our prescription education section.


“Prevent Heart Disease | CDC.Gov.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The information provided is meant for a general audience. It is not a substitute for services or advice received from your health care providers who are the only ones that can diagnose and treat your individual medical conditions. Capital Blue Cross and its affiliated companies believe this health education resource provides useful information but do not assume any liability associated with its use.