According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. The term “heart disease” includes several heart conditions, but the most common in the U.S. is coronary artery disease, which affects blood flow to the heart and can cause a heart attack.

Symptoms of heart disease

Sometimes heart disease may be “silent” and not diagnosed until a person experiences symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia. When these events happen, symptoms may include:

  • Heart attack: Chest pain/discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
  • Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins

Risk factors

Several health conditions (including mental health disorders), your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. About half of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. In addition to tobacco use, several other lifestyle choices can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Unhealthy diet: A diet high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol has been linked to heart disease and related conditions. Too much salt also can raise blood pressure.
  • Physical inactivity: Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease and increase the chances of other conditions that are risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Excessive alcohol use: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and increase levels of triglycerides, which can increase the risk for heart disease. 


There are ways you can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels normal and lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack.

Choose healthier habits

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
  • Limit your intake of salt, sugar, and alcohol.
  • Learn more about healthy eating.
Physical activity:
  • Adults: The Surgeon General recommends 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week.
  • Children and adolescents: 1 hour of physical activity every day is recommended.
  • Learn more about physical activity.
  • If you smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit. Find more information.

Take charge of your medical conditions

  • Cholesterol: Your doctor should test your blood levels of cholesterol at least once every 4-6 years, and more often if you've already been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have a family history of the condition. 
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so have it checked on a regular basis. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes or prescribe medicine.
  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully. Talk with your doctor about treatment options; lifestyle changes may help keep your blood sugar under control and help reduce your risk for heart disease.
  • Medications: If you take medicine to treat high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. 
  • Mental health: Talk with your doctor about heart disease and mental health disorders are related.

Helpful Resources