February is Heart Health Awareness Month

February is Heart Health Awareness Month

In February heart-shaped decorations, cards, balloons, and chocolates appear everywhere. This is a great reminder that since 1964 February has been American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and, through the efforts of groups like the American Heart Association, there is growing awareness that it is the leading cause of death for women as well.

Dr. Louie Coulis, MD, FACC, Coulis Cardiology says, “When dealing with heart disease risk it can be helpful for those concerned to look at their risk factors in two categories. Those they can change or modify and those they cannot.” Your age, sex, family history, and racial background cannot be changed. However, those factors that can be modified with lifestyle changes are:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body weight
  • Cholesterol
  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Type II diabetes.

“Targeting the modifiable risk factors means that doctors and patients can work together to make dramatic reductions in heart disease risk,” said Dr. Coulis. For example, diabetes is strongly linked to heart disease. In fact, the most common cause of death among type II diabetics is heart or blood vessel disease and their risk of death due to a cardiovascular event is as much as six times greater than non-diabetics. Unregulated blood sugar worsens the risk of heart disease but as Dr. Coulis notes, “even with controlled blood sugar a diabetic’s risk of heart disease is elevated.”

Likewise, smoking is a powerful heart disease risk factor. Smoking doubles one’s risk of heart attack and, according to Dr. Coulis, “smokers who quit can see a four-fold reduction in their risk of heart disease. Quitting also reduces the secondhand smoke exposure for others, which is also a heart disease risk factor.”

Most people survive their first heart attack and make a functional recovery. Dr. Coulis says, “The improvements in emergency cardiology mean that, if caught in time, those who suffer a heart attack can be treated. Still, it is a good idea for individuals at risk of heart disease and their loved ones to be acquainted with the symptoms of a heart attack.”

The symptoms of heart attack include:

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath or fatigue. It is important to note that approximately 1/3 of people who have a heart attack do not feel any chest pain. Many of these are women, non-Caucasian, or older than 75.
  • Pain in the middle of the chest which can spread to the back, neck, jaw or arms.
  • Nausea & vomiting which are sometimes mistaken for food poisoning or the stomach flu.
  • Gas-like pain or pressure in the stomach area which is may be mistaken for indigestion.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Feelings of restlessness, sweating, or anxiety.
  • Bluish lips, hands, or feet.
  • Heavy pounding of the heart or abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Loss of consciousness.

The word is spreading. There is greater awareness of heart disease, its risk factors, and the symptoms of a heart attack. If you are interested in assessing and lowering your risk of heart disease see your doctor.