National Heart Disease Awareness Month

Manage Heart Health

In the month of February, we think of flowers, chocolate, and romantic getaways. February, after all, is the symbolic "heart" month.

Did you know that February is also National Heart Disease Awareness month? According to the World Health Organization, Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Raising awareness is a priority as there are several modifiable risk factors that, if implemented, could decrease the incidence and severity of the disease.

In fact, Healthy People 2020 has set forth 24 objectives specific to heart illness and stroke, which aims to improve cardiovascular health and quality of life.

Heart Health

Heart disease is a broad term used to describe several conditions that affect the heart.

The most common heart disease is coronary artery disease, which occurs when plaques develop in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. As plaques continue to accumulate, the arteries become narrow, which restricts blood flow to the heart.

The most common symptom of restricted blood flow to the heart is chest pain. Restriction of blood flow to the heart can lead to many other complications to include heart failure, arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) and heart attack.

Clots will form from the body's attempt to repair an artery damaged by plaques and can dislodge to cause complications. These include a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs) and stroke (blood clot in a blood vessel in the brain).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States, which is equal to approximately 1 in 4 deaths. Coronary artery disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion per year, which is a cumulative expenditure of health care costs, medications and lost productivity (CDC, 2014).

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Elevated cholesterol,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Uncontrolled diabetes,
  • Tobacco use,
  • Obesity,
  • Diet,
  • Physical inactivity,
  • Alcohol abuse.

Heredity is also thought to be a risk factor, although some familial diseases are a result of the environment rather than genetics.

How to Manage Heart Disease Risks

The good news is there are things that can be done now to decrease your risk of heart disease.

  1. Modify your diet: Choosing foods low in saturated fat, high in fiber and low in salt can yield significant results. Keep in mind, your diet doesn't have to change overnight. Making positive steps in the right direction and learning more about food and nutrition is a process.
  2. Increase activity: Physical inactivity can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50% (WHO, 2015). The Surgeon General recommends getting 2 1/2 hours of exercise per week. Again, this is a process. If you are new to exercise, start slow and build up intensity as your cardiovascular endurance improves.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Quit smoking.
  5. Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking 1-2 drinks per day may lead to a 30% reduction in heart disease, but heavy use can damage the heart muscle (WHO, 2015).
  6. Take your blood pressure on a regular basis.
  7. Have your cholesterol tested during your annual check-up or at least every five years.
  8. Manage stress.

My Life Check - Life's Simple 7

The American Heart Association has a great tool on their website titled "My Life Check - Life's Simple 7" that provides a heart score and gives tips on improving heart health based on the score. While you're there, check out all the great resources the American Heart Association has to offer.

American Heart Association (2015). My Life Check - Life's Simple 7.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Heart Disease Facts.

World Health Organization (2015). The Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke.

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