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Putting heart health first 

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This month, people all over the nation take time to focus on cardiovascular health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, in our nation, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, and one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease.

One in five heart attacks is silent, meaning the damage is done but the person is not aware of it until it might be too late. The key to avoiding cardiovascular disease is maintaining a lifestyle optimal for heart health, knowing your risk factors and being able to notice signs and/or symptoms before it is too late.

Throughout the years, cardiovascular disease has sometimes been thought of as a “man’s disease,” but heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Age is also not a determining factor when it comes to an individual’s heart health. Although heart disease is typically seen in people 65 or older, coronary heart disease can be found in someone as young as 20. Almost half of the people in our nation have at least one risk factor for heart disease, although they may not know it. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Other conditions that can put an individual at a higher risk for heart disease include obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy eating habits. Drinking too much alcohol and tobacco use also puts someone at higher risk for developing heart issues.

Heart disease can be hereditary, but more than passing inherited traits down through generations, it is now also thought that someone’s environment can also play a role in a person’s added risk for cardiovascular related issues. For example, genetic factors like high blood pressure when combined with growing up in an environment that includes unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy eating habits has shown to possibly increase an individual’s risk for heart disease more than a person who grew up with healthier examples and still inherited the high blood pressure trait.

Symptoms of heart disease include chest pain, and upper back or neck pain. While those symptoms can also be signs of a heart attack, heart attack signs also include indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, or arrhythmia. Heart failure symptoms also include shortness of breath and fatigue, but individuals may also develop swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins. For symptoms of a heart attack or heart failure, 911 should be called immediately.

Taking care of your heart is easier than you may think. For starters, don’t smoke. Make heart-healthy choices at mealtimes which include foods low in trans fat, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. Stay active whenever possible and try and get up and move for at least 30 consecutive minutes a day. Also, you can learn how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle by talking to your primary care provider about a healthy heart plan that can work for you. For some, medications may need to be prescribed such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol medications.

Whether you’re young or old, have inherited high-risk traits, or need to make lifestyle changes, I urge you to start putting your heart health first this year and for years to come. Your heart will thank you for it.

Statistics for this column were taken from the Center for Disease and Control.