Got a Minute?: If you love your heart, keep it healthy and happy

It’s heart month. February is “National Heart Month,” the month to bring awareness about your heart. Understanding your risk factors, making necessary lifestyle changes, and knowing heart attack symptoms could save your life.

Fourteen years ago, my father passed away. Heart disease had ravaged his body. Following a major cardiac arrest, he survived six more years but only with the aid of a defibrillator/pace maker unit, oxygen, and vast quantities of medications.

Four-and-a-half years ago, my husband had a heart attack. Two stents and some lifestyle changes later, he is doing well.

As you might guess, “National Heart Month” – the month to bring awareness about your heart – in February is personal for me. Based on the data, it most likely is for you, too.

According the latest American Heart Association statistics, the numbers of those affected by cardiovascular diseases are staggering.

Cardiovascular disease, listed as the underlying cause of death, accounts for nearly 836,546 deaths in the United States. That’s about 1 of every 3 deaths in the U.S.

About 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of 1 death every 38 seconds.

Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives each year than all forms of cancer and Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease combined.

About 92.1 million American adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke. Direct and indirect costs of total cardiovascular diseases and stroke are estimated to total more than $329.7 billion; that includes both health expenditures and lost productivity.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause (43.8 percent) of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease in the U.S., followed by stroke (16.8 percent), heart failure (9.0 percent), high blood pressure (9.4 percent), diseases of the arteries (3.1 percent), and other cardiovascular diseases (17.9 percent).

Understanding your risk factors, making necessary lifestyle changes, and knowing heart attack symptoms could save your life.

There are two categories of risk factors for heart disease. The first category is beyond a person’s control. These include demographic and genetic characteristics such as growing older, being male, having a parent or parents with heart disease, or your ethnicity.

The latest statistics from the CDC indicate that heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites.

What you can do

The second category is under a person’s control. This category involves several physiological factors or lifestyle choices, many of which can be controlled by the person or through medication. These include:

Blood pressure – know your blood pressure numbers and talk with your doctor about lifestyle and medication options

Cholesterol – bloodwork will reveal your cholesterol numbers; your doctor may prescribe cholesterol lowering drugs, diet, or lifestyle changes

Smoking – if you smoke, quit. If you fail, try again. It takes the average person six to seven attempts at quitting to succeed.

Diabetes – know your blood glucose number; if you are diabetic, work with your physician and a certified diabetes educator to learn how to manage your blood glucose level.

Overweight and obesity – calculate your BMI (height to weight ratio) and take necessary steps to bring your BMI into the norm range.

Poor diet – Load up on vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation, naturally lower cholesterol, and provide beneficial fiber.

Physical inactivity – Strive for walking at least 20 minutes per day. Take the stairs. Park on the far end of the parking lot. Take breaks and walk briskly on your breaks or around your home.

Excessive alcohol use – Men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks per day and women one drink per day.

Warning signs

Know the warning signs of a heart attack. Not everyone will experience every symptom. Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, many start slowly with mild pain or discomfort over the course of several days.

In general, someone having a heart attack may experience several of the following symptoms:

1. Chest pain or discomfort that does not go away after a few minutes.

2. Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.

3. Weakness, light-headedness, nausea, or cold sweat.

4. Shortness of breath.

If you think, you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, contact Lorraine at or (585) 335-4327.

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