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February, the month of hearts! Even the American Heart Association is on-board, proclaiming in 1964 that February was to be American Heart Month.
Back in 1964, cardiovascular disease (which includes heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, angina, and rheumatic heart disease) caused over half the deaths in the US. Though we have improved, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for adults in the US.
What is heart disease? According to the National Institutes of Health, “heart disease is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack. A heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.”
Arteries are typically blocked by the build-up of fatty plaques in the arterial walls. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is often caused by correctable problems, such as an unhealthy diet (high-cholesterol foods), lack of exercise, obesity, and smoking.
Other risk factors for heart disease are uncontrolled high blood pressure, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, chronic stress, and diabetes.
It is important to talk with your healthcare provider on a regular basis about your risk factors for heart disease, and follow through with recommended testing, such as blood work or heart monitoring.
Symptoms of heart disease/heart attack that require immediate action:
- Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
- Pain in the arms, neck, jaw, or sudden onset of any unexplained upper body pain
- Shortness of breath not due to a known respiratory condition
- Nausea or vomiting not related to an illness
- Feeling faint, dizzy, or weakness not associated with a known condition
- Cold sweats or feelings of “impending doom”
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Ignoring these symptoms could cost you your life.
Heart Disease Prevention: In addition to the above-mentioned factors, the Mayo Clinic has developed a quick-start program called “Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8” with the following recommendations:
- Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Move 10 minutes daily, with moderately intense physical activity (with doctor approval).
- Sleep 8 hours each night.
For more information on this program, the book “Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart Plan” gives a comprehensive overview of heart disease prevention strategies.
Keep your heart happy with healthy eating, regular exercise, reducing risk factors, and enjoying a nibble of dark chocolate!
Marla LeFevre, RN
Director of Health Services
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