Established by President Lyndon B. Johnson, February has been recognized as American Heart Month since 1964. It was a landmark moment in our nation’s understanding of and approach to dealing with the issue of heart disease.
Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. – responsible for about one in every four deaths. It affects everyone, although some groups – based on factors like age, gender, and ethnicity – are at greater risk than others.
According to the American Heart Association:
- The majority of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
- Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and men have attacks earlier in life.
- While heart attacks can strike people of both sexes in old age, women are at greater risk of dying.
- Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease themselves.
- African-Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians, and a higher risk of heart disease.
- Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, there’s good news – there are steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk. Even if you already have atherosclerosis or have had a heart attack, there’s a lot you can do to prevent future heart problems.
Some risk factors are beyond your control. You can’t change your gender, your family history, or your age – but other major risk factors can be changed. You can help lower your risk of developing heart disease by making positive lifestyle changes. Even if you already have heart disease, doing these things can help you prevent a future heart attack:
Recognize and mitigate risk factors:
- Stop smoking. Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers.
- Control high blood pressure. If you have blood pressure higher than recommended, work with your healthcare provider to lower it.
- Control high cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, particularly if you have high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, work with your healthcare provider to lower it. Even a 10 percent reduction in your total cholesterol may lower your risk for heart disease.
- Lose extra weight. Your heart and blood vessels are under constant stress to pump blood to all your body tissues. Losing weight reduces the strain on your heart and the wear and tear on your body.
- Control diabetes. If you have diabetes, keep control of your blood sugar level. About two-thirds of people with this condition die from cardiovascular disease, not diabetes. High blood sugar is very damaging to blood vessels anywhere in the body. Ongoing high blood sugar scars the vessels and can cause heart attacks, strokes, and narrowing of arteries to major muscles and organs such as the heart and brain.
- Limit alcohol use and manage stress.
- Don’t use recreational drugs.
You can tackle several risk factors at once by doing just three things:
- Eating healthier. Healthy food options can help you stay heart healthy and get the nutritional benefits your body needs.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise can cut your risk for heart disease by helping you lose weight and control your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol levels. Exercise for at least 30 to 40 minutes, four to five days a week.
- Taking your medicines as directed. Read the label on your medicine, and read any information provided by your pharmacy about your prescription. If you’re taking more than one medicine, consider filling all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This may help prevent possibly dangerous interactions. Let your healthcare provider know about any side effects. Never stop taking medicine on your own.
If you or a loved one are currently living with and managing heart disease, skilled home health clinicians can provide support, education, and other tools to help you successfully manage your condition. Above all, talk to your doctor about your risk factors, any symptoms you may experience, and what next step is right for you.