February is American Heart Month!

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, one out of every four deaths is attributed to heart disease.

What is heart disease and how can we prevent it? Heart disease encompasses several types of heart conditions. The most common type in the United States is coronary heart disease (also referred to as coronary artery disease), which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits which can accumulate in the arteries. When this happens, the arteries can narrow over time.

Plaque buildup can cause angina, the most common symptom of coronary artery disease. This condition causes chest pain or discomfort due to the heart muscle not getting enough blood. Over time, coronary artery disease can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can’t pump blood the way it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can also develop. Sometimes, the first sign of coronary heart disease is a heart attack which happens when plaque totally blocks an artery carrying blood to the heart. It can also happen if a plaque deposit breaks off and clots a coronary artery.

Prevention is the best way to ward off heart disease. Fortunately, many of the risk factors for heart disease can be prevented or controlled. What should you do?

  • Talk to your health care professional. Share your health history, get blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and ask if taking an aspirin each day is right for you.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Regularly monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. One in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure, and half of these individuals do not have their condition under control. High cholesterol affects 1 in 3 Americans as well and two thirds of these individuals do not have the condition under control. Half of adults with high cholesterol don’t get treatment.
  • Prevent diabetes.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Take your medications.

A good way to remember how to prevent heart disease can be as easy as knowing your ABC’S:

· A – Appropriate Aspirin Therapy for those who need it.

· B – Blood Pressure Control.

· C- Cholesterol Management.

· S- Smoking Cessation.

For more information on ways to prevent heart disease, consult the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.

Sources: American Heart Association, AARP, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health.