Celebrate American Heart Month by Taking Care of Yours

It’s February, so it’s time once again to start thinking about hearts — and we don’t mean making dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day.

February is federally designated as American Heart Month, intended as a reminder of the real heartbreak of cardiovascular disease. American Heart Month was first proclaimed in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson at a time when cardiovascular disease caused more than half of all deaths in the United States. While still the leading cause of death today, progress has been made to drop its percentage of total deaths to below 25.

Heart disease is a term encompassing a number of conditions, many related to the buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries. As plaque builds up and arteries narrow, blood flow becomes restricted and the risk of heart attack and stroke increases. Other heart problems include angina, arrhythmia, and heart failure.

Know the Signs

It’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms of heart trouble, which can appear before a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest, upper body, arms, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
  • Breathlessness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats

Don’t Delay

If you think you may be having a heart attack, it’s important to get help immediately. Every minute counts. Call 911 or your local emergency number. Don’t try to tough out your symptoms, and don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital. Chew and swallow an aspirin (unless you are allergic or have been told by your doctor not to take it). If you’ve been prescribed nitroglycerin by your doctor, take as directed — but don’t take someone else’s nitroglycerin! That could put you at even greater risk. If you’re with someone who is having a heart attack, CPR or an external defibrillator may be needed if they become unconscious before professional help arrives.

Understand that the survival rate for heart attack is low, and gets lower with every minute that passes without help. Immediate treatment is needed, and prospects aren’t good even for heart attacks that occur in hospitals.

More Than an Ounce of Prevention

Preventing heart disease is much more effective than trying to treat the disease once you have it. There are a number of steps you can take, most of which involve simply living a healthier lifestyle. Regular visits with your doctor are important to help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels monitored and in check. In addition:

  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco.
  • Exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fats.
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range.
  • Get enough quality sleep.
  • Manage stress.

If you can manage all that — and there are no excuses here; these are the things we need to do — then you should be in pretty good shape for many more American Heart Months and many more Valentine’s Days to come.