You may think February is all cutesy hearts and the color red because of Valentine’s Day,
but it’s also American Heart Month and time to remember the significance of cardiovascular disease – which kills more than 2,000 Americans daily – and the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of people in America,” says Dr. Michael Kirchner, an interventional cardiologist with Mercy Medical Group. “This is something to take seriously.” According to Dr. Reetu Sharma, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and a cardiologist with Sutter Roseville Medical Center and Sutter Lincoln, “Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all cancers combined.”
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a “heart attack occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of the heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.”
Heart and vascular problems affect both men and women. Men are typically at risk after age 40, while post-menopausal women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are most vulnerable. Classic warning signs include chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat and weakness on one side. Women often ignore symptoms because they think heart disease is a “man’s disease.” “Women can often have nausea or shortness of breath, [which] they may dismiss as anxiety or gas,” Dr. Sharma says.
MINIMIZE RISK FACTORS: Know Your Numbers
Take symptoms seriously and minimize risk factors, such as high cholesterol (total cholesterol over 200 mg) and high blood pressure (anything higher than 140/90). “Knowing your numbers and changing your lifestyle is so important,” Dr. Sharma says. “People who control their numbers are less likely to have complications of cardiovascular disease.”
Lack of exercise is also bad for the heart. “I believe an exercise program needs to be a part of your daily regimen,” says Dr. George Fehrenbacher, co-medical director of cardiology with Sutter Roseville Medical Center. Plan to get about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week. “Exercise helps you in many more ways than simply preventing heart disease,” he says, explaining regular exercise can help fight depression, give you increased stamina and improve your general well-being.
“Stopping smoking is probably more beneficial than [anything else] you can do,” Dr. Sharma says. Good nutrition is also crucial to cardiovascular health. “Diet is a very important part of modification of risks,” says Dr. Kirchner, who recommends eating foods high in fiber and lots of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding trans fats and saturated fats. He also advises reducing your salt intake, reading food labels and cutting down on red meat consumption.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
If you have symptoms, don’t wait. Call 911 and go to the emergency room immediately. “We’re geared up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to stop heart attacks,” Dr. Fehrenbacher says. “We want patients [with heart trouble] to call 911 early.”
Remember, healthy habits will improve your chances of having cardiovascular problems. “Prevention is very important,” Dr. Sharma says. “You’re saving hospitalizations, damage to your heart and lots of stress.”