Each year, more than 800,000 people in the United States have a heart attack (myocardial infarction). The majority of these heart attacks are for the first time.
About 25% of diagnosed heart attacks happen to people who have already survived one. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for U.S. men and women.
This article highlights important facts and statistics you should know about heart attacks.
Heart Attack Overview
Heart attacks are a type of cardiovascular disease (heart disease). They can cause serious complications and may even lead to death. Heart attacks happen when there is a lack of blood flow to parts of the heart muscle. Blood flow is reduced over time when the heart arteries get clogged (atherosclerosis).
Low or blocked blood flow is called ischemia. Without enough blood flow, the heart's muscle is starved for oxygen and other nutrients, which can cause chest pain, heart muscle damage, or even heart muscle death.
If caught early, chest pain can be a warning sign of interrupted blood flow, and the blockage may be reversible. When the heart lacks blood flow for some time, the heart muscle becomes injured. Damage to heart cells can occur with just 10–15 minutes of poor blood flow. Heart muscle tissue death from interrupted blood flow is diagnosed as a heart attack.
How Common Are Heart Attacks?
More than one in every three adults has cardiovascular disease.5 Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.
In a single year, 805,000 adults have heart attacks—605,000 people have their first heart attack, and 200,000 people have a repeat heart attack.
The rates of cardiovascular disease will increase from one-third to half of the U.S. population by 2035. They expect that the number of people with coronary artery disease will increase from 16.8 to 24 million Americans in that same time.
However, due to the complex nature of heart attacks and their classification, it can be challenging to get exact numbers—often called the incidence or prevalence—of people affected.
Heart Attack by Ethnicity
In the United States, the rates of heart attacks are decreasing over time. And from 2000 to 2014, fewer people of all races had to stay in the hospital because of heart attacks.
Overall, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native American Indians, and some groups of Asian and Pacific Islanders have higher heart disease rates than White people.
Heart Attack by Age and Gender
Heart attack rates increase as people age and are most common among people 80 and older. The average age for the first heart attack is 65.5 years for males. Females tend to have their first heart attack when slightly older at an average age of 72 years.
Men are more likely to have heart attacks than women, except for people ages 20–39, when women are slightly more likely to have them.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Chest discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom for both men and women. However, women are more likely to experience vague symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, or vomiting.
Causes of Heart Attack and Risk Factors
A heart attack can happen when circulation to the heart decreases or stops. Coronary artery disease is a cause of many heart attacks. Over time, the arteries that supply blood to the heart become blocked in areas called plaques.
Risk factors for heart disease and heart attack include:
Approximately 50% of people in the United States have at least one of these risk factors. In many cases, these risk factors can improve with diet, exercise, and medications.
Other risk factors, such as older age, being male, inherited genetics, and family history, can increase your risk of a heart attack.
What Are the Mortality Rates for Heart Attacks?
Heart disease causes one out of every five deaths. Currently, 14 out of 100 people will die from a heart attack. About 77% of deaths from heart disease occur outside of the hospital.
Men have higher mortality rates than women. Black people have the highest age-adjusted mortality rate of all races studied. And people in rural areas die more often than those in urban areas.
Survival rates after heart attacks are improving. Overall, mortality rates from heart attacks are decreasing, which means fewer people die from their heart attacks.
Screening and Early Detection
It is important to know the warning signs of a heart attack. Possible signs and symptoms include:
- Chest pain or discomfort (may feel like pressure, squeezing, or fullness)
- Pain in one or both arms
- Jaw pain
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Cold sweat
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Seek emergency care immediately if you believe you're having a heart attack or if you have the warning signs of a heart attack.
Seek emergency care immediately if you believe you are having a heart attack or if you're experiencing the warning signs of one. Rapid care from your emergency medical services (EMS) can often provide life-saving treatments.
There are a variety of tests to diagnose a heart attack, what kind of heart attack you are having, and where the blockage is likely to be. Some initial tests may include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)
- Echocardiogram (cardiac echo)
- Blood tests, including cardiac biomarkers
- Cardiac catheterization (angiogram)
Heart attacks may happen gradually or rapidly. Chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms can be frightening. Rapid diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack may prolong your life and reduce its effects on your health. Know the signs of a possible heart attack and seek medical attention immediately. Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly may help to reduce your risk of having a heart attack. Be sure to speak with your medical team to understand your risk of heart disease and any recommended treatments.