In 2002, 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.

Overall, in 2003, men had a higher rate of heart disease than women. However, women under 45 years of age had a higher rate than men (43.9 per 1,000 women compared to 31.6 per 1,000 men). Rates of heart disease increase substantially with age and are highest among those 75 years and older. This demonstrates the chronic nature of this disease.

Rates of heart disease among women differ by race and ethnicity. The highest rates were reported among non-Hispanic White women (120.3 per 1,000), followed by non-Hispanic Black women (88.6 per 1,000). Asian women had the lowest rate (42.1 per 1,000). Death rates from heart disease among Black women exceed those of White women.

Graph: Adults with Heart Disease by Age and Sex[d]

Graph: Women with Heart Disease by Race/Ethnicity[d]