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Decrease in deaths from women's leading killer – heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women.1 But today, fewer women die of heart disease.2 Between 2003 and 2004, the number of women who died from heart disease shifted from 1 in 3 women to 1 in 4 women.3 The ongoing decline in death from heart disease is due to both a reduction in risk factors (such as high blood pressure) and improved treatments for heart disease.4

In the past 30 years, HHS began several efforts to help women recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease and understand their risk of heart disease. In 1997, the CDC launched the WISEWOMAN program, which screens low-income women for chronic diseases like heart disease. Women at high risk are then invited to join lifestyle programs like cooking classes or walking clubs to lower their risk.  

In 2002, NIH launched a national campaign to educate women about heart disease, The Heart Truth Campaign®, and its symbol, the Red Dress. By 2009, The Heart Truth Campaign reported an increased awareness of heart disease as the leading cause of death for women – up from 34% in 2000 to 69% in 2009.

Research sponsored by AHRQ has found important differences in the approaches to treatment and prevention of heart disease between women and men. For example, women are more likely to experience delays in the ER when they have cardiac symptoms.5 OWH introduced Make the Call. Don't Miss a Beat. in 2010 to educate women about the symptoms of a heart attack and empower them to call 9-1-1 as soon as the symptoms arise.

In 2011, HHS started Million Hearts®, a national, public-private initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Co-led by the CDC and CMS, the initiative brings together communities of all kinds to improve care and empower Americans to make heart-healthy choices.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires most insurers to provide preventive care and screening, including the "ABCs" of cardiovascular prevention: aspirin use (A), blood pressure control (B), cholesterol management (C), and smoking cessation (S) at no cost. Remember these "ABCs," and together we can prevent heart attacks and strokes.


  1. CDC, Deaths: Leading Causes for 2010
  2. NIH, NHLBI, 2012 NHLBI Morbidity and Mortality Chart Book
  3. NIH, NHLBI, Heart Disease Deaths in American Women Decline
  4. CDC, Vital Signs: Avoidable Deaths from Heart Disease, Stroke, and Hypertensive Disease — United States, 2001–2010
  5. AHRQ, Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Conditions in Women