February is Heart Disease Awareness Month

Our hearts are one of the most important organs we have. They control the flow of blood throughout our bodies, and we often refer to them when talking about emotions.


Diseases affecting our hearts and blood vessels are a serious global health threat. Each February, people around the country raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases during American Heart Month. Cardiovascular diseases, those that affect the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death around the world and in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. About 795,000 people have a stroke each year—about one every 40 seconds.


While cardiovascular diseases are one of the biggest non-communicable disease threats, they often can be prevented. There are two sets of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases: those that cannot be changed and those that can. Age, gender and family history contribute to cardiovascular diseases, but an individual is not at liberty to change those. Risk factors that can be changed include level of blood pressure and blood sugar, physical inactivity, diet and weight. While having an individual risk factor does not mean you will develop a heart condition, they can increase the potential. Several of the modifiable risk factors are linked together. A healthy diet and physical activity can help control weight.


According to the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of the global population is not sufficiently active. Another major controllable risk factor is smoking. The World Heart Federation states that smoking leads to cardiovascular diseases in more than one way. Smoking damages the lining of blood vessels and increases fatty deposits in arteries. Nicotine accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure, all of which can contribute to heart disease. If you or a loved one is having a heart attack or stroke, there are some tell-tale signs to look for. Heart attacks can be sudden, or more subdued, but often include chest pain, discomfort in the upper body, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold sweat, and nausea.


A stroke can be easily recognized with the acronym FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty. See these and it’s Time to call emergency help. Some heart conditions and related medications can lead to dizziness and increased falling in older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite that one out of three adults 65 and older falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it. In the event of an emergency, when no one else is there, a medical alert can summon help easily and quickly. Your recommendation could save a life. 


The American Heart Association is the oldest, largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Sources: World Health Organization, World Heart Federation, American Heart Association