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You’ll Be Seeing Red this Month…Find Out Why

February is American Heart Month

You may have noticed that you’ve seen a lot of people wearing red lately. Yes, Valentine’s day is just around the corner, but that’s not the only reason red will be a prominent color this month. American Heart Month, celebrated each year for the entire month of February, is a great time to learn more about heart disease so you can commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that will lead to a lifetime of heart health.

Chances are, we all know someone affected by heart disease, because approximately 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day—an average of one death every 38 seconds. In fact, cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that direct and indirect costs of heart disease total more than $320.1 billion. That number includes health expenditures and lost productivity.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is actually a broad term used for a wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels like coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), and defects of the heart present at birth (congenital heart defects).

Most often, the term refers to coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. This is a condition in which plaque—made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances in the blood—builds up inside the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

This plaque can grow large enough to reduce or completely block blood flow through an artery. That plaque may rupture, causing a blood clot to form that either blocks the artery or breaks off and travels somewhere else in the body—causing a blockage at another site. When the blockage takes place in a blood vessel that feeds the heart, the result is a heart attack or, depending on the severity, Sudden Cardiac Death.

If the plaque build-up or blood clot resulting from the plaque rupture occurs in the carotid arteries on either side of the neck, this is called Carotid Artery Disease and can result in a stroke. Peripheral Arterial Disease is when the major arteries that supply blood to the legs, arms, or pelvis are obstructed. If blood flow to any of these areas of the body is reduced or blocked, numbness, pain, and, sometimes, dangerous infections like gangrene can occur.

Be Aware of These Symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack or myocardial infarction can vary greatly from person to person, but to help you identify a possible heart attack, The Heart Foundation the most common symptoms:

  • Approximately two out of every three people who have heart attacks experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue a few days or weeks before the attack.
  • A person with angina (temporary chest pain) may begin to find it takes less and less physical activity to trigger the pain. Any change in the pattern of angina should be taken seriously and brought to the attention of your physician.
  • During a heart attack, a person may feel pain in the middle of the chest which can spread to the back, neck, jaw, or arms. The pain may also be felt only in the back, neck, jaw, or arms rather than the chest.
  • A person having a heart attack may have gas-like pain or pressure in the stomach area which is often mistaken for indigestion. The pain is similar to angina, but it is usually more severe, longer lasting, and does not improve with rest or a nitroglycerin pill.
  • Approximately one out of every three people who have heart attacks do not feel any chest pain. Many are women, non-Caucasian, older than 75, have heart failure or diabetes, or have had a stroke.
  • Nausea and vomiting (sometimes mistaken for food poisoning or the stomach flu).
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath, especially in older people.
  • Feelings of restlessness, sweatiness, anxiety, or a sense of impending doom.
  • Bluishness of the lips, hands, or feet.
  • Heavy pounding of the heart or abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Loss of consciousness (this can be the first symptom of a heart attack).
  • Disorientation resembling a stroke may occur in older people.
  • Also, older people, especially women, will often take longer to admit they’re not well and to request medical assistance.

Half of the deaths from heart attack occur in the first three or four hours after the onset of symptoms, so it’s important to know and recognize the warning signs. If you think you or someone in your presence is having a heart attack, call 911 IMMEDIATELY. Every minute of delay can result in more damage to the heart muscle.

Make Changes Now

The biggest part of living healthy comes down to simply making healthy choices. While you can’t change things like age and family history, the good news is that even modest changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80%.

A healthy lifestyle includes the following:

Healthy Diet: Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol. Limiting salt (sodium) in your diet also can lower your blood pressure. Limiting sugar in your diet can lower you blood sugar level to prevent or help control diabetes.

Healthy Weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to calculate excess body fat. They may use special equipment to calculate excess body fat and hydration status.

Physical Activity: Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get one hour of physical activity every day.

No Smoking: Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.

Limited Alcohol: Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one.

For more information on keeping your heart healthy or to schedule an appointment to discuss any heart concerns you may have, contact the caring providers of CCHC Heart and Vascular Specialists at 252-63-HEART (634-3278).

(Sources: American Heart Association; The Heart Foundation; Million Hearts; Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Real Health Magazine.)