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February is Heart Disease Awareness Month

Feb 16, 2018

  Did you get the memo?  Are you wearing red?  Friday is the 3rd National Wear Red Day in recognition of women and heart disease.  Heart disease is not just a women’s health issue.   Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women.
  • Each year about 610,000 people die from heart disease. That is one in every four deaths in the United States.
  • Heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.
  • Heart disease will cost $320.1 billion annually in healthcare, medications and lost productivity.
  • Arkansas has the seventh highest rate for heart disease. It is notable that the east Arkansas delta region is home to some of the highest rates for heart disease in the nation.

Heart disease is an umbrella term for any type of disorder that affects the heart.  The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure and arrhythmias. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.  Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices also put people at a higher risk for heart disease.  These include diabetes, being overweight or obese, a poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use. Heart disease can run in the family. Genetic factors may play a role in high blood pressure, heart disease and other vascular conditions. However, it also is likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments that increase their risk. The risk can increase even more when heredity is combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices. Early action is the key to preventing deaths from a heart attack, but many people don’t know the signs.  In a 2005 survey, most respondents—92 percent—recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, but only 27 percent were aware of all major symptoms.  About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital, suggesting that many people with heart disease don't act on early warning signs.  The major warning signs of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats

There are lifestyle behaviors that have a direct impact on the prevention of heart disease.  They fall in line with the same behaviors that prevent diabetes, cancer and other high risk conditions.  Specifically, begin with a healthy diet.  Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, proteins that are low in saturated fats and foods rich in fiber.  Be especially careful about sodium intake.  These habits will help blood pressure and cholesterol levels stay lower. Other behaviors include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising on a regular basis and limiting alcohol use.  Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. So if you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Once you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, your risk for heart disease increases.  It is important that you take medications as prescribed and monitor these conditions with routine checks-ups. Heart disease is not inevitable, nor does a diagnosis of heart disease have to become a death sentence.  By working closely with your physician and taking a proactive attitude toward healthy lifestyle changes, you can be a force for lowering the statistics cited earlier.  Wear red Friday, and make the choices that make a difference in heart disease.   This article was written by Karan Summitt. Karan is a Community Health Educator and an Employee Health Coach at St. Bernards Medical Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Harding University in Searcy and has extensive training and experience in weight loss and healthy lifestyle management, with emphasis on healthcare needs of seniors. She submits a weekly lifestyle “column to The Jonesboro Sun entitled “The Diet Gal” and also writes a “Successful Aging” column for the magazine NEA Seniors.