Many of us associate February with romantic Valentine's Day celebrations, but February is also observed as American Heart Month and Heart Disease Awareness Month. These observances aim to educate the public about the risk factors for heart disease and the steps that can be taken to improve heart health.
Heart Disease Statistics
The term heart disease is often used interchangeably with cardiovascular disease to refer to medical problems involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels leading to a heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease.
Consider the following:
- Cardiovascular disease results in more than 17.3 million deaths per year, accounting for one in every three deaths in America. This number is expected to grow to over 23.6 million by 2030.
- Cardiovascular disease results in more deaths than all forms of cancer combined.
- It's a common misconception that heart disease is a man's disease. About 1 in 4 women in the United States die from heart disease, while two-thirds of female heart attack victims fail to make a full recovery.
- The direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke total over $316.6 billion when you factor in lost productivity as well as health expenditures.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Although it's impossible to predict the future, there are a number of factors known to increase a person's risk of heart disease, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Having a family history of heart disease
- Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high blood cholesterol
- Having diabetes and prediabetes
- Following a poor diet
- Being age 55 or older
Taking Steps to Promote Heart Health
While some factors associated with heart disease are beyond your control, there are many small lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health. These include:
- Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, preventive care helps catch issues of concern before they lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Research indicates about 69% of all adults in the United States qualify as either overweight or obese.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is considered one of the top three risk factors for heart disease.
- Reduce salt intake. Instead of using salt to flavor your food, cook with fresh or dried herbs and spices.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, try to decrease the amount of fried foods you eat.
- Exercise regularly. If you're currently sedentary, even walking just 15 minutes a day can make a difference. Currently, it's estimated that 30% of adults get no physical activity during the day.
- Take your medication. If you've been prescribed diabetes, blood pressure, or cholesterol medication, follow the dosing instructions precisely. If you're bothered by medication side effects, discuss the issue with your doctor before changing your medication schedule.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. It's associated with angina, or severe chest pain. It's often initially mistaken for heartburn or indigestion. Other symptoms associated with this condition include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, weakness, dizziness, excessive sweating, and nausea. Coronary artery disease that's not properly controlled can lead to a heart attack.
A heart attack generally begins with a tight ache, pressure, or squeezing in the chest. It can also include anxiety, lightheadedness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. However, women often have fewer of the typical heart attack symptoms and are more likely to report pain in the arm, back, neck, or jaw.
The warning signs of a stroke are easily remembered by the acronym FAST:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
Prompt medical care greatly increases a patient’s odds of making a full recovery, but inexperienced or overworked physicians can sometimes mistake the signs of heart disease for another less serious condition. If you believe you suffered harm due to a provider’s misdiagnosis of your heart disease, Neblett, Beard & Arsenault can help. Please contact us to learn more about pursuing a medical malpractice claim.