Chances are someone in your life has been, or will be, affected by heart disease. It’s the number one cause of death in the U.S., taking more than 610,000 lives every year. Since February is Heart Month, take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the disease and actions you can take to help prevent it.
What is heart disease?
When people think of heart disease, heart attacks often come to mind - and for good reason. While heart disease is an umbrella term for a variety of ailments affecting the heart and blood vessels, the most common type is coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attacks.
Coronary artery disease happens when the heart’s major blood vessels become hard and narrow due to a buildup of plaque. When blood flow (which brings oxygen to the heart) is reduced or blocked, a heart attack can occur. Other types of heart disease include stroke, arrhythmia and heart valve problems.
What are the signs of a heart attack?
On TV and in movies heart attacks are usually depicted with someone clutching their chest in pain and falling over. The American Heart Association says while some heart attacks are sudden and intense, more often heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. It may feel like a building of pressure or squeezing, and it may go away for a few minutes then return. While chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack, there are other symptoms.
According to the American Heart Association, someone having a heart attack may also experience:
- Pain or discomfort in their jaw, neck, back, arms or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
Women are more likely than men to experience non-chest pain symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. When it comes to heart attacks, every second counts!
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Certain conditions increase your chances of developing heart disease. Risk factors include:
- Family history
- Poor diet
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Poor oral hygiene
While you can’t control your age or family history, you can eliminate some of the risks through a healthy lifestyle. From nutrition and weight management to help quitting smoking and reducing stress, there are lots of free online resources available. However, always make sure to talk with your doctor, so you can live a heart-healthy life.
In addition, if you or a loved one need help preparing healthy meals, remembering to take medications or attending doctor appointments, ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care can help. In-home caregivers are available 24/7, including holidays, to help support your healthy lifestyle. Contact us today at 800-886-4044 to schedule a no obligation in-home assessment.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published Feb. 22, 2016. It has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.