Year-Round Heart Health Could Save Your Life

Have you considered your heart health recently?

February is American Heart Month which reminds us to focus on our cardiovascular health. Taking routine steps to care for your heart and knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack could save your life.

Each year, American Heart Month is celebrated to motivate Americans to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, about 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when there is a prolonged decrease of blood or oxygen to the heart. This results in the death of heart muscle. There are several ways this can occur, the most common instances being blockage of a coronary artery and plaque rupture.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. Understanding common and atypical symptoms can help get you or a loved one life-saving care quickly.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. Atypical symptoms of a heart attack include nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, pain in the arm, jaw, back or neck. Heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women. Men typically have more classic chest pain, whereas women tend to have more atypical symptoms. It is also possible to have a silent heart attack. A silent heart attack occurs when either minimal or no symptoms are present.

Know Where to Go

Seeking medical attention is imperative if heart attack symptoms are present. If proper medical attention is not obtained in those critical first moments of a heart attack, heart damage can become permanent, and a person could suffer fatal effects.

The emergency room is the best course of action for heart attack symptoms. Never drive yourself or a loved one to the emergency room; calling 911 will help ensure that care is received as quickly as possible.

Despite recent news headlines about hospitals being at capacity due to COVID-19, it is still imperative to seek medical care for a suspected heart attack. One should err on the side of caution and be evaluated in the emergency room. All patients with suspected heart attack symptoms will be triaged and seen by a qualified physician.

Heart Health Begins at Home

Heart disease is and continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have found ourselves spending more time at home. Unfortunately, this has not decreased the risk of heart disease. For some, the risk has increased.

Even if a person has not been diagnosed with heart disease, they may still be at risk for a heart attack. Several factors may put a person at risk. Some of these risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, tobacco use, diabetes, family history, age, sex and a sedentary lifestyle.

The good news is there are several small changes you can begin doing today to help keep your heart healthy. Eating heart-healthy foods, staying active and limiting alcohol are great options to begin taking care of your heart at home.

Heart-Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the keys to preventing heart disease. Maintaining a diet of fruit, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and healthy oils helps support overall heart health. Limiting red meat, foods with lots of sodium and processed foods can also lower risk.

Exercise goes hand-in-hand with a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, preferably spread throughout the week.

Limiting Alcohol Intake

Increased alcohol consumption contributes to a higher risk for raised blood pressure. It can also contribute to other heart issues such as an irregular heartbeat and stroke. It’s recommended that men have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women have no more than one.

Taking steps to be conscious of your heart health can help keep your risk for heart disease low throughout the year. Reflecting on heart health in February is a good reminder for us all but remember that taking care of your heart health year-round and knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack could save your life.

Brian Dolsey, MD, FACC, FSCAI, is a cardiologist with ProMedica Physicians.