by Pam Gennings, Executive Director Special Projects
February brings Valentine’s Day and heart-shaped boxes of candy, but it’s also American Heart Month. First declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it was designed to bring awareness to the symptoms, causes and preventions of Heart Disease, which at that time was responsible for more than half of all deaths in this country.
Awareness and prevention have greatly increased in the half-century since the first Heart Month. As a result, heart disease has steadily declined since 1968, with fewer than 400,000 actual deaths in 2010, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The institute estimates that if 20th-century heart disease trends had continued unchecked, it would have been the cause of nearly five times as many deaths – more than 1.8 million – in 2010.
However, heart disease is still the current leading cause of death in both women and men in this country, responsible for one in four deaths in the United States. Though a heart attack is the most-often associated health risk, other serious types of heart disease include coronary artery disease (the most common), heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy (diseased heart muscle), atrial fibrillation (a type of arrhythmia), and congenital heart defects.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are numerous hereditary and environmental factors that determine an individual’s risk for heart disease. They include;
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Age/Family History/Race or ethnicity
- Lifestyle choices such as:
-> Unhealthy Diet
-> Physical Inactivity
-> Too Much Alcohol
-> Tobacco Use
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major signs of a heart attack:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and returns. It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This can often accompany chest discomfort, but can also occur before any other signs are noticeable.
- Other symptoms. This includes breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately.
Preventing Heart Disease
While the effects of heart disease are serious, the good news is there are many common-sense steps that you can take to limit your risk factors, according to the CDC. Some of them include;
1. Live a healthy lifestyle – Healthy behaviors can lower your risk for heart disease, which include;
- Eat a healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get enough physical activity
- Limit alcohol use
- Don’t smoke or use other forms of tobacco
2. Check your cholesterol – Your health care provider should check your cholesterol at least once every five years. If you have already been diagnosed or have a family history of heart disease, your cholesterol should be checked more frequently. If you have high cholesterol, lifestyle changes or prescribed medication may help reduce your risk of heart disease.
3. Control your blood pressure – High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, and is important to have yours checked on a regular basis. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your health care provider might recommend that you lower the sodium in your diet, prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, and make some lifestyle changes.
4. Manage diabetes – If your health care provider identifies symptoms of diabetes, they may recommend that you get tested. If diagnosed, it’s important for you to monitor and control your blood sugar levels. Lifestyle changes can help keep your blood sugar under control, and reduce your risk for heart disease or other diabetic complications.
5. Take your medicine – If you take medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions. NEVER stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
6. Talk with your healthcare provider – Work with your medical team to prevent or treat medical conditions that can potentially lead to heart disease.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with heart disease, Oxford Healthcare has numerous Home Care programs that can help. Contact us to find out about our cardiovascular, telemonitoring, and specialty services designed to help more people with heart disease stay healthy, and stay home.
About the Author
Pam Gennings has a Bachelor of Arts and has worked in the field of Geriatric Social Work and Care Coordination for more than 30 years. She started working for Oxford HealthCare in 1993. During the course of her career she has helped thousands of people find resources to remain in their homes, as well as providing guidance to families that were facing difficulties with their aging loved ones.