February is Heart Health Month

Now is the perfect time to show your love – with not just roses and hearts, but healthy hearts!

February is synonymous with love. It brings thoughts of hearts and roses, of cupid and his arrow. Cartoonish, bubble-shaped hearts are plastered at practically every retail store across the country. It’s hard to avoid being drawn into it all. Not everyone looks forward to February, though. For some, it’s a painful reminder of those lost to an unhealthy heart. Instead of a celebration of love with roses, they remember a celebration of life with lilies. Dramatic? Yes. Farfetched? Sadly, not at all. February provides another logical opportunity to renew your vow to be heart healthy – all the better if your resolutions for the new year include health-related commitments. If you haven’t made that vow, now is the perfect time to start.

Did you know that 1 in every 4 deaths is related to heart disease? Information on heart disease and heart health is readily available by trust-worthy sources online. The American Heart Association (AHA), The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are just a few of those resources. You can find out more at AHA (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/); CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm) or NHLBI (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/).

Learning the facts can help us understand our own risk for heart disease, how to reduce it and how to respond in the event of an emergency. Get to know the facts. Get to know your risks and start working on ways to reduce them and you’ll be on your way to becoming heart healthy. According to CDC, in the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack. Lifestyle changes and in some cases, medication, can greatly reduce your risk for CAD. Here’s what you need to know:

A Few Facts About Heart Disease in the United States

  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.1
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.1
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually.1
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans experiences a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.2

Act Fast if You or Someone You Know Might be Having a Heart Attack

Early action is important. Know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack and act fast if you or someone you know might be having a heart attack. The chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly.

  • In a 2005 survey, most respondents-92%-recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack. Only 27% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a heart attack.3
  • About 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.4

Know the Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away after a few minutes.
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, weakness or cold sweats.

Americans at Risk for Heart Disease

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.5

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

Make the Change for Heart Health!

  • Schedule a visit with your doctor to talk about heart health. It’s important to schedule regular check-ups even if you think you are not sick. Partner with your doctor and health care team to set goals for improving your heart health. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
  • Add exercise to your daily routine. Start the month off right by walking 15 minutes, 3 times each week. As permitted, increase your time to 30 minutes, 3 times a week.
  • Increase healthy eating. Cook heart-healthy meals at home at least 3 times each week and make your favorite recipe lower sodium.
  • Take steps to quit smoking. If you currently smoke, quitting can cut your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Take medication as prescribed. Talk with your doctor about the importance of high blood pressure and cholesterol medications. If you’re having trouble taking your medicines on time or if you’re having side effects, ask your doctor for help.

Life after Heart Attack

While heart disease does not always lead to death, it often does affect a person’s quality of life. Family, health, friends, leisure time, self-fulfillment, financial means and material well-being are all important aspects of life that may suffer. Those with heart disease often experience anxiety and depression. It’s understandable how that can be. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can make changes… we can start small and work through the challenges one day at a time. In light of the significant changes required after the fact, a few preemptive changes seem well worth the effort – before it’s too late. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?  As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is the time to renew your vow for heart health 2017. We can do this. For our families. For our friends. For ourselves. We’re all in this together!


  1. CDC, NCHS. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2013, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed Feb. 3, 2015.
  2. Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics-2015 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015;131:e29-322.
  3. CDC. Disparities in Adult Awareness of Heart Attack Warning Signs and Symptoms-14 States, 2005MMWR. 2008;57(7):175-179.
  4. CDC. State Specific Mortality from Sudden Cardiac Death: United States, 1999MMWR. 2002;51(6):123-126.
  5. Fryar CD, Chen T, Li X. Prevalence of Uncontrolled Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: United States, 1999-2010[PDF-323K]. NCHS data brief, no 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012

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