February is National Heart Month.  The Center for Disease Control tells us that approximately 610,000 Americans die from heart related deaths each year.  Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women.  What can we do to lower these statistics? 

It may take a little research or a conversation with parents or elders in your family to find out who has had heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and even diabetes.  All these ailments can cause damage to the heart muscle.  Even if your family has had a clean bill of heart health, other factors such as thyroid disease, chemotherapy, poor diet, lack of exercise and heavy alcohol consumption can also contribute to heart disease. 

Early symptoms of heart disease can be barely noticeable or ignored completely.   Get regular check ups with your primary care doctor or cardiologist.  Contact your doctor if you feel any pain, pressure, or discomfort.  Chest pain isn’t always a tell-tell sign of a heart attack so be sure to tell your doctor if you have experienced any of the following:

  • Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat
  • Chest pain during physical activity that gets better when you rest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and/or neck
  • Reduced ability to exercise or be physically active
  • Problems doing your normal activities

To improve your heart health start by taking these steps:

  • Increase your physical activity.  Start with something you enjoy like taking a brisk walk, biking, dancing, walking during your golf game, bowling, etc.
  • If you smoke, quit.  Smoking leads to hardening of the artery walls which causes heart disease. Quitting later in life will still have some benefit and will lower your chance of getting cancer.
  • Follow a heart healthy diet which includes lots of fruits, vegetable, whole grains, and less sugar and salt.
  • Keep a healthy weight.  If you are wondering what a healthy weight should be, click here.
  • Keep your diabetes, cholesterol, and high blood pressure under control.  Be sure to take all your medications prescribed by your doctor as directed.

Unfortunately, heart disease is not just a condition for adults.  1 in 100 infants and children are diagnosed with Congenital Heart Disease.  Most congenital heart defects are holes or leaky valves.  Although, there are more serious defects such as heart valve defects, problems with the heart walls, issues with the heart not pumping correctly, and bad valve connections.  Treatment for some defects can be managed with surgery, medications, or other procedures.  You will need to be under the care of a cardiologist for regular check ups. 

If you or someone you know is expecting or plan to become pregnant, encourage them to talk to their doctor around the 20 week mark for possible testing of CHD.   

For more information on heart disease causes and prevention, please click on the links below:

American Heart Association    www.heart.org

National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute    www.nhlbi.nih.gov

National Institute of Health     www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging

Center for Disease Control   www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Web MD                               www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/congenital-heart-disease#1

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta    www.choa.org/heart