A widely known fact today, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. A cause for concern, undoubtedly, but heart disease is preventable through healthy lifestyles and proper management of one’s health.
February is American Heart Month; a perfect time to raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it by working with communities, health professionals, and families. Promoting a healthy lifestyle is one of the easiest ways to combat the development of this disease. Encourage friends and family to do so by changing their eating habits, committing to exercise at least once a week, or simply scheduling regular visits to your doctor.
The term ‘heart disease’ does not describe just one condition, but a range of difficulties that directly affect the heart. Some different types include coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (rhythmic problems), and congenital heart defects developed when born. The symptoms of these conditions may vary, especially between men and women, but it’s best to know the warning signs beforehand.
Chest pain is more common in men, though it can be experienced by both sexes. Women are more prone to shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. Other symptoms may include pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or upper abdomen, fainting, and numbness or weakness in extremities due to constriction of blood vessels. Should you be experiencing any of these, consult a medical professional as soon as possible. Most patients are not diagnosed as having heart disease until they suffer a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
Common causes vary by type. For cardiovascular disease, a buildup of fatty plaques within your arteries can thicken and stiffen the artery walls, which inhibits blood flow; a direct effect of a poor diet with little exercise. Heart arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms, can be congenital, which patients unfortunately have no control over. Other causes of this condition include high blood pressure, smoking, preexisting diabetes, stress, drug use, or excessive caffeine intake.
The likelihood of developing any of these heart conditions can be heightened by factors like age, gender, family history, poor diet, or poor hygiene, thus stressing the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Even simple practices like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and showering regularly can develop healthier habits, and prevent contracting viruses or bacterial infections.
One of the most important considerations for those concerned about developing heart disease is tobacco. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of developing any number of chronic disorders. This can cause buildup within your arteries leading to atherosclerosis. The United States Public Health Service has a great, free program on this topic: the USPHS-Rx for Change Tobacco Cessation Training Program. The goals of this program are to reduce tobacco use throughout the nation, promote tobacco cessation interventions among all individuals, and provide all necessary resources concerning tobacco use, products, and cessation therapy.
In the article linked above, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, describes how simply educating others is not enough to successfully end tobacco use. Tobacco cessation training programs are designed to equip health professionals and physicians with evidence-based strategies for assisting patients in quitting tobacco use. One of these modules is the Ask-Advise-Refer method; ask every patient about tobacco use, advise them to quit, and refer them to educational resources on the matter.
I took the Tobacco Free Pledge, a vow to abstain from all types of tobacco products and set an example for others. You can do so as well, to support the Office of the Surgeon General’s health priority of tobacco-free living and ending the epidemic of tobacco use in the United States.
Failing to take care of your heart disease, or ignoring symptoms that may lead to any variation of the condition can cause severe complications. Blood clots preventing proper blood flow can cause heart attacks, or heart failure altogether. Even more seriously, people with undiagnosed or untreated heart disease are at risk of stroke, aneurysms, and sudden cardiac arrest.
This February, take advantage of American Heart Month by raising awareness, changing any unhealthy habits you indulge in, and spreading the word about the seriousness of heart disease. Consult your doctor should you be experiencing any symptoms related to heart disease, and schedule regular checkups. Encouraging those around you to do the same can inspire others to make a change, and take steps toward reducing the mortality and burden of heart disease!