Weekly Wellness: February is heart month

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COLUMBIA – February is American Heart Month. The goal of this declaration is to bring attention to the fact that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading killer of American women and men. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die. Most people survive their first heat attack and return to their normal lives to enjoy many more years of productive activity. But having a heart attack does mean you have to make some changes. The doctor will advise you of medications and lifestyle changes according to how badly the heart was damaged and what degree of heart disease caused the heart attack.

The American Heart Association began in 1924, and the tradition of American Heart Month began in 1964. The AHA focuses on awareness, education and funding of medical research. The organization has invested more than $3.7 billion into studies, including more than $100 million annually since 1996, the most of any entity outside the federal government. Why is it so important to teach us about CVD? It’s simple. Cardiovascular disease accounts for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. Everyone is at risk. Unfortunately, factors beyond your control can increase your risk: gender, race, ethnicity, and where you live can all have a negative impact on your heart health. African American men are at the highest risk for heart disease. About 2 in 5 African Americans have high blood pressure, but only half have it under control. A recent article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also showed that Americans aged 30 to 74 who live the Southeast—specifically, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia—are at higher risk of developing heart disease over the next 10 years than people who live in other parts of the country.

Many of these states have a large African American population. The symptoms of CVD may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.

Symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed.
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back

You might not be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. You may be experiencing symptoms of an abnormal heartbeat, called a heart arrhythmia. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Heart arrhythmia symptoms can include:

  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting
  • Heart disease symptoms caused by heart defects

Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns about your heart health. If you’re concerned about developing heart disease, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk.

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