R ed paper hearts, heart-shaped boxes full of chocolate, one whole day dedicated to love – it must be February! But this month isn’t just about valentines and chocolate, it is also about the heart; February is heart disease awareness month.
According to the American Heart Association in 2006, 81 million Americans had some form of cardiovascular disease. About 73 million had high blood pressure, which is a common risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. But high blood pressure isn’t the only risk factor, others to be aware of include:
- Personal history of cardiovascular events
Ok, so you cannot do anything about those three risk factors, but here are some that you can do something about:
- Cholesterol (Watch Dr. Christianson’s video on cholesterol)
- Sedentary lifestyle
What are the warning signs of a cardiovascular event?
- Numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
- Chest pain or discomfort, pain may radiate down left arm
- Pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, back or stomach
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
- Sudden loss of responsiveness
- No normal breathing (someone does not take a normal breath when you tilt their head up and check for a breath for at least 5 seconds)
It is important to note that men and women are very different. (You probably didn’t need a doctor to tell you that!) Women typically don’t manifest the same symptoms of a heart attack as men. Indigestion and extreme fatigue are the most common early warning signs of a heart attack in women.
A new study published Tuesday, February 15, 2011, in the Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology shows that the heart’s ability to handle premature contractions (known as heart rate turbulence) may be the strongest indicator of a potential heart attack. The study showed that even individuals considered to have a low cardiovascular risk are 8-9 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease if they have abnormal heart rate turbulence. Heart rate turbulence is a measure of how well someone can handle sudden or extreme stress. At this time, testing heart rate turbulence is not a standard test used to assess cardiovascular risk. However based on this research, it may soon be.
So what can you do to maintain a healthy heart?
- Eat healthy, nutritious whole foods. Avoid processed foods, fried foods, and fast foods. Give your body the fuel it needs to keep it healthy. This will also help you maintain a healthy body weight and lower your cholesterol levels.
- Remove all sodas (diet and regular) from your diet! Consumption of sugary sodas leads to diabetes, which is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But don’t think that you can safely switch to diet sodas. A recent study shows that people who consume diet sodas have a 48% greater risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) than those who don’t.
- Get out and move every day! We cannot say enough about the benefits of exercise. Exercise helps lower other risk factors on this list such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity. It is also a great stress reliever and helps maintain a healthy body weight. Get your family, friends and neighbors involved, make active living a group event and part of your daily life.
- Maintain healthy, loving relationships with your family and friends. These are the people who make you happy and who support you when you need them. A smile on your face is great for the heart!
- If you smoke, please stop. Smoking leads to atherosclerosis which can cause high blood pressure.
Awareness and education is key to understanding how to reduce your risk of heart disease. See your doctor regularly and ask for help in reducing your risk factors. It is the best way to show your love for your family, and yourself, in February.