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Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term which includes heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure and congenital cardiovascular defects. Taken together, these diseases of the heart and blood vessels are the biggest killers in Illinois and in the United States.

More deaths (39,079)* in Illinois were due to CVD than any other cause of death in 2003. Heart disease and stroke were the first and third leading causes of death, respectively. CVD accounted for 37 percent of all deaths – equal to deaths due to cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes and influenza/pneumonia combined (Figure 1).

Figure 1 . Leading Causes of Death, Illinois, 2003


Mortality Rates

In both the United States and Illinois, CVD age-adjusted mortality rates are declining. Although there is no conclusive evidence to explain this decline, advancements in the treatment of heart disease and stroke may be important contributors.

Illinois is ranked 31 among the 50 states for CVD age-adjusted mortality rates.** For the year 2002, the CVD age-adjusted mortality rate for Illinois is 627.9/100,000, compared to the U.S. rate of 616.6/100,000. CVD age-adjusted mortality rates vary by gender, race and age.

Although men have higher CVD age-adjusted mortality rates (801.3/100,000) than women (558.1/100,000), CVD remains the leading cause of death in women, claiming 21,000 lives in 2003 compared to almost 18,000 men in that same year (Figure 2).

African Americans have the highest CVD age-adjusted mortality rates (863.0/100,000) – more than 35.2 percent higher compared to whites (638.4/100,000) and 158.8 percent higher compared to other races (333.5/100,000). Despite the differences in age-adjusted mortality rates by race, CVD remains the leading cause of death for all races.

African-American men are especially at risk for dying from CVD. The age-adjusted mortality rate for African-American men is 1,023.4/100,000, higher than any other race-gender group. Women of other races have the lowest CVD age-adjusted mortality rate at 280.1/100,000.

Figure 2. CVD Age-adjusted Mortality Rates by Gender and Race


Disability, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Costs

CVD is the leading cause of disability among adults in the United States. Approximately one of three survivors of a heart attack or stroke will die within one year. Of those who have a heart attack or stroke, many may experience a diminished quality of life due to discomfort and disability. Among stroke survivors, 15 percent to 30 percent are permanently disabled.***

CVD was responsible for 342,875 years of potential life lost (YPLL represents the years between a person’s age at death and age 85) in 2003, approximately 23 percent of the total years of potential life lost from all causes during that year.****

The cost of cardiovascular diseases in the United States for 2006 is estimated at $403 billion (direct and indirect costs). By comparison, in 2004, the estimated cost of all cancers was $190 billion, and in 1999, the estimated cost of HIV infections was $28 billion.*****

In 2004, in Illinois, there were 238,518 inpatient primary discharges for CVD, with more than $7.5 billion in charges. While CVD accounts for 14 percent of all discharges, 23 percent of all hospital charges are due to CVD. The average cost per discharge for CVD was approximately $32,000, compared to only little more than $17,000 for all discharges except CVD.******

Risk Factors

Risk factors for CVD are classified as nonmodifiable or modifiable. Nonmodifiable risk factors cannot be controlled. These include gender, race, family history and advancing age. Risk factors that can be controlled, or changed, are called modifiable. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance of heart disease and stroke. Major modifiable risk factors are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity

The most common risk factors for heart disease and stroke among adults in Illinois are poor nutrition and physical inactivity (Figure 3). More than 77 percent of the adult population does not get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and 60 percent do not get the recommended amount of physical activity. These two risk factors have a synergistic effect on other risk factors including obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

More than one-third (34.1 percent) of adults in Illinois have high cholesterol, and one in four has high blood pressure. Many adults (22.2 percent) in Illinois are current smokers, another factor that increases a person’s chances for developing heart disease and/or having a stroke.

Figure 3. CVD Risk Factors Among Adults, Illinois and United States

* Illinois Center for Health Statistics, Illinois Department of Public Health
** America’s Health Rankings 2005, United Health Foundation
*** American Heart Association. Heart and Stroke Statistics-2003 Update. Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association, 2002
**** National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Vital Statistics System, 2003; produced by Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
***** Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2006 Update; A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee
****** Illinois Department of Public Health, Facility Discharge Data, 2004, Division of Health Policy, Office of Policy, Planning and Statistics

Warning Signs

Heart Attack
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath along with, or before, chest discomfort
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

For Women

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.


  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Call 911if you have any of these symptoms or if you see someone else experiencing these warning signs. Treatment is more effective if given quickly. Every minute counts!

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