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Heart Disease is the Number One Killer of Women in the U.S.

February is American Heart Month and given current statistics, American women need to consider their risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It killed 292,188 women in 2009 – that’s 1 in every 4 female deaths i.

Having one or more risk factors significantly increases a woman’s chance of developing heart disease. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking. 80 percent of women ages 40 to 60 have one or more risk factors for heart disease. Other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can increase a woman’s risk for heart disease, including diabetes, being overweight, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.

Heart disease doesn’t only affect older women. It can affect younger women in their 20s and 30s, even women in their teen years. Women need to take action to reduce their risk of developing heart disease. Among U.S. women ages 18 and older, 17.3 percent are current smokers, 51.6 are overweight (BMI of 25 or greater), 27 percent have hypertension, 35 percent have high cholesterol, and 53 percent do not meet physical activity recommendationsii.

African American and Hispanic women, in particular, have higher rates of some risk factors for heart disease and are disproportionately affected by the disease compared to white women. More than 80 percent of midlife African American women are overweight or obese, 52 percent have hypertension, and 14 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes. Some 83 percent of midlife Hispanic women are overweight or obese, and more than 10 percent have been diagnosed with diabetesiii.

HHS Campaigns Promoting Heart Disease Awareness Among American Women

It’s never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease. The following HHS campaigns and programs promote women’s awareness of heart disease and heart-healthy lifestyles.

Million Hearts™ Initiative

Million Hearts™ is a national, public-private initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services lead this initiative which brings together communities, health care professionals, health systems, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, and private-sector partners to improve care and empower Americans to make heart-healthy choices. Visit the Million Hearts website™ to learn more about this initiative.

The Heart Truth® Campaign

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and partner organizations are sponsoring a national campaign called The Heart Truth®. The campaign’s goal is to give women an urgent wake-up call about their risk of heart disease. It targets women ages 40 to 60, the age when a woman’s risk of heart disease begins to rise. But its messages are also important for younger women. To learn more about The Heart Truth® campaign and its resources, visit The Heart Truth® website.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds the WISEWOMAN program that helps women with little or no health insurance reduce their risk for heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. The program assists women ages 40 to 64 in improving their diet, physical activity, and other behaviors. WISEWOMAN also provides cholesterol tests and other screening. CDC funds 21 WISEWOMAN projects in 19 states and two tribal organizations. For more information on the WISEWOMAN program, visit the WISEWOMAN program website.