February 2017

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2017, February). Coronary heart disease – Part I: Definition, prevalence, incidence and mortality of the leading cause of death in the United States. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.

Coronary Heart Disease – Part I: Definition, Prevalence, Incidence and

Mortality of the Leading Cause of Death in the United States

Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Nationally Syndicated Host & Producer – Let’s Talk Nutrition


Although it is only a bit larger than a fist, each day the human heart on average expands and contracts about 100,000 times and pumps approximately 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the vast circulatory system of the body. If the network of blood vessels of the circulatory system were laid out end-to-end, it would extend for a distance approximately equivalent to 60,000 miles or more than twice around the earth. Over a 70 year period the heart beats more than 2.5 billion times (Thomas et al., 2006).

These facts about the heart underscore the extent to which it must work over a person’s lifetime. They also point to the importance of keeping the heart healthy and free from disease, if it is expected to satisfy a workload that few mechanical pumps could meet.

Yet, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most prevalent form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the United States and takes more American lives annually than any other degenerative disease. More than likely someone in your immediate family, circle of friends or coworkers has died from CHD. Make no mistake about it. Either directly or indirectly, CHD looms as a health threat to potentially each and every person reading this article.

Given its lethal prominence over all other diseases, the February, 2017, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly is an update an article previously published focusing on what CHD is, along with statistics associated with its prevalence, incidence and mortality.

Definition of Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD)[1] is a disease of the heart in which the inner endothelial lining or walls of one or more of its coronary arteries[2] become partially or completely narrowed by a long-term accumulation of atheromatous plaque[3] which reduces the flow of nutrient rich, oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart muscle, undermines the structure and function of the heart and increases the risk of such cardiac events as chest pain (i.e., angina pectoris) and heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Prevalence, Incidence and Mortality of Coronary Heart Disease

The prevalence, incidence and mortality statistics related to coronary heart disease (CHD) reveal that far too many Americans are failing to practice good heart health.[4] This is evidenced by the fact that CHD is the most common type of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the United States.[5]


It is estimated that 16,300,000 people or 7% of American adults 20 years of age and older have CHD. Out of the total population of people diagnosed with CHD, 8.3% are males and 6.1% are females. It is predicted that by 2030 another 8,000,000 American adults could be diagnosed with CHD, representing a 16.6% increase in its prevalence from 2010 (see Roger et al., 2011).



Typically, the incidence of CHD is discussed and presented in the literature as the number of new cases of a coronary/heart attack (i.e., myocardial infarction – MI). According to Roger et al. (2011), in 2011 approximately 785,000 American adults will have a new coronary attack, while 470,000 American adults will experience a recurrent heart attack. It is estimated that the annual incidence of new cases of coronary attack is 610,000, with 325,000 recurrent attacks. The average age of experiencing a first heart attack is 64.5 years for men and 70.3 years for women.

When it comes to gender and the incidence of CHD, there are some important differences between men and women. According to Roger et al. (2011), CHD comprises more than half of all cardiovascular events in men and women under age 75, with the lifetime risk of developing CHD after age 40 being 49% for men and 32% for women. The incidence of CHD itself is also different for men and women. The incidence of CHD in women falls behind men by 10 years for total CHD and lags behind by 20 years for more catastrophic clinical events such as MI and sudden death (see Roger et al., 2011).


When compared to other deadly degenerative diseases that plague Americans (including cancer), CHD ranks as the single leading cause of death of American males and females. It is responsible for one out of six deaths in the United States. In 2008 (most recent year reported), death from CHD was 405,309 (see Roger et al., 2011).

About every 25 seconds an American will experience a coronary related event and about every minute a person will experience a fatal cardiac event, usually a heart attack. About 34% of the people who experience a coronary attack in a given year will die from it. Approximately 15% of those who have a heart attack (MI) will from it and approximately every 34 seconds an American adult will have a heart attack (see Roger et al., 2011).


The human heart is a phenomenally powerful pump supplying fresh oxygenated, nutrient rich blood to every cell, tissue and organ in the body. It is paradoxically durable and capable of a sustained workload but vulnerable and susceptible to disease and failure. It beats relentlessly without ever pausing to rest. It is made of fatigue-proof muscle. The only time cardiac muscle loses its endurance and the heart is unable to continue its rhythmical beating is when it becomes diseased. Unfortunately, the diseasing of the heart takes place quietly and over a long period of time. It is as if it does not want to disappoint. But then one day it sends out a signal of serve pain in the chest. Depending on the extent of its diseased condition you either experience angina or suffer a fatal or near fatal heart attack. Too bad it does not signal in an overt way when atherosclerosis is in its early stages. Of course, it is our responsibility to practice preventative care by getting periodic check-ups. If you suspect you suffer from atherosclerosis, there are a variety of cardiac screening and diagnostic tests that can be performed for patients who are asymptomatic for cardiovascular disease.


Roger, V., Go, A.S., Lloyd-Jones, D.M., Benjamin, E.J., Berry, J.D., Borden, W.B., Bravata, D.M., Dai, S., Ford, E.S., Fox, C.S., Fullerton, H.J., Gillespie, C., Hailpern, S.M., Heit, J.A., Howard, V.J., Kissela, jB.M., Kittner, S.J., Lackland, D.T.., Lichtman, J.H., Lisabeth, L.D., Makuc, D.M., Marcus, G.M., Marelli, A., Matchar, D.G., Mou, C.S., Mozaffarian, D., Mussolino, M.E., Nichol, G., Paynter, N.P., Soliman, E.Z., Sorlie, P.D., Sotoodehnia, N., Turan, T.N., Virani, S.S., Wong, N.D. Woo, D. & Turner, M.B. (2011). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2012 Update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Retrieved from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2011/12/15/12/CIR.0b013e31823ac046.DC1.html

Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. (2006, June 20). Atherosclerosis. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Atherosclerosis&printible=yes

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2017, February). Coronary heart disease – Part I: Definition, prevalence, incidence and mortality of the leading cause of death in the United States. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.

[4] Prevalence means the total number of cases in a population at a given point in time. Incidence means the total number of new cases in a population in a one year period. Mortality means the total number of deaths in a population in a given year.

[5] Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all diseases related to the circulatory system, including congenital CVD (see Roger et al. 2012). Further, the prevalence of CVD includes those suffering from hypertension, heart disease (HD), stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and diseases of the veins (see Roger et al., 2011).


[1]CHD is variously referred to in the literature as coronary artery disease (CAD), atherosclerotic heart disease and ischemic heart disease. At the same time, some writers even make a distinction between CHD and CAD. The terminological and definitional inconsistencies in the literature on CHD have contributed to the conceptual confusion confronting health consumers on cardiovascular disease (CVD), generally, and CHD, specifically.

[2] The arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart are termed “coronary” because they surround the heart in the form of a crown.

[3] Atheromatous plaque is made-up of such substances as cholesterol, proteins, calcium, fibrin, foam cells, smooth muscle cells and other elements. Structurally, atheromatous plaque can be divided into three distinguishable parts. There is the 1.atheroma (a mound or nodule of accumulated soft, flaky, yellowish material) occupying the center of larger plaques, 2. an underlying area of cholesterol crystals, and 3. calcification located at the outer area of more advanced lesions (Wikipedia, 2006).