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February is American Heart Month

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The first proclamation of the American Heart Health Month was issued in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson. All succeeding presidents have designated February as Heart Health Month to bring awareness to heart disease which is our nation’s number one killer.

It is especially important this year with the COVID-19 pandemic causing many people to delay or avoid seeing their doctor or going to the hospital. This has prompted the American Heart Association to create “Don’t Die of Doubt,” a national awareness campaign that reminds people that hospitals are the safest place to go when they have symptoms.

What is heart disease?

The term heart disease is used to describe multiple types of heart conditions. The most prevalent one in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD) which is the narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries. This is caused mainly by a build-up of cholesterol and fatty deposits (plaques) inside the arteries. This decreases blood flow to the heart and can cause a heart attack.

Other heart conditions that fall under the term heart disease:

  • Rapid, slowed, or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias)
  • Heart valve disease
  • Disease of the heart muscle
  • Heart infection
  • Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)

How does heart disease affect the elderly?

People 65 and older are much more likely to suffer from heart disease than younger people. The effects of heart disease can be a major disability for older loved ones. It can limit their physical activity and even their ability to perform normal daily tasks. This can lead to depression, a decrease in their quality of life, or the ability to live on their own.

What are the symptoms to watch for?

If your loved one feels any chest pain, pressure or discomfort, go to the hospital right away. But, chest pain becomes a less common sign of heart disease as it progresses so there are other symptoms the National Institute on Aging says to pay attention to and talk to your loved ones’ doctor about:

  • Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat
  • Chest pain during physical activity that gets better when you rest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and/or neck
  • Reduced ability to exercise or be physically active
  • Problems doing your normal activities

Heart disease symptoms in women.

Heart disease is thought to be more prevalent in men than women, but the truth is that it’s the number one cause of death for both. Women can have symptoms that are different than what men experience so they often don’t know what to look for.

According to the Mayo Clinic, chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom in women and men. But this is not always the most severe symptom in women. It is often described as a pressure or tightness in the chest. They are more likely than men to experience symptoms unrelated to chest pain such as:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Indigestion

Since these symptoms may not be as obvious as chest pain, women tend to wait to seek medical help after heart damage has already developed. By learning to recognize these symptoms, women can help reduce their risk of heart disease.

What are the risk factors of heart disease?

Our loved ones’ medical conditions and lifestyle choices put them at a greater risk for heart disease. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are the top three key risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 47% of Americans have at least one of these three. Here are some additional risk factors to watch out for:

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

There are some risk factors that no one has control over we but should be aware of to monitor their effects:

  • Family history
  • Ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Age

How to help your loved one prevent and slow down heart disease.

There are steps to take to help keep their hearts healthy:

  • Be more physically active. Check with their doctor for the types of activities that would be the best for them. If possible, join in the activities with them.
  • If they smoke, encourage them to quit. Smoking will damage the artery walls and it’s never too late to get benefits from quitting.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet. Help your loved one choose healthy foods that are low in fats, salts, and added sugar.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity not only contributes to heart disease, but a number of other serious chronic conditions as well.
  • Keep diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol under control. Listen to your doctor and take any prescribed medications as directed.
  • Do not drink a lot of alcohol. It is recommended that women only have one drink a day and men no more than two.
  • Manage stress. Research strategies to help promote relaxation and manage stress.

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

If your loved one does experience the effects of heart disease such as a heart attack or heart failure, the American Heart Association recommends cardiac rehabilitation. This is a medically supervised program to help improve the cardiovascular health of someone who has had a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery. It won’t change the past but can help improve the future.

By Your Side is here to help your loved one stay healthy and safe by providing in-home care. We invite you to contact us for a free, no obligation, in-home consultation.

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