February truly is a month all about the heart, but that’s not just because of Valentine’s Day.
Sure, it’s important to remember to get your significant other a box of chocolates, flowers and a nice card (looking at you, last-minute gift-givers). Maybe more importantly, though, February is American Heart Month, and it’s a great time to learn about your risk for heart disease and how to prevent it.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of both American men and women, accounting for more than 800,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Also, about half of Americans have at least one of the key risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking — and 90% of women have one or more risk factors.
Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. However, some risk factors can’t be controlled, like your age and family history, so it’s important to know where you stand.
“It’s imperative to understand the risk factors for developing heart disease at any age,” said Cathy Malone, administrative director of cardiovascular services and assistant chief nursing officer for Maury Regional Health. “Knowing what to do when these symptoms occur could save yours or someone else’s life.”
Getting an idea of your family history is one of the easiest ways to become aware of your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Have a conversation with your family members about your family’s history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and other related conditions, then share what you found with your doctor.
Maury Regional Health offers vascular self-referral screenings to check for signs of peripheral artery disease, stroke and abdominal aortic aneurysm. A physician’s order is not required to schedule a screening, and results are sent directly to the patient to share with their doctor. Call 931.380.4044 to schedule a screening.
Along with understanding your family history and other risk factors, February is also a great time to get a refresher on the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Remember that the signs of heart attack may even present themselves differently in women than men.
Warning signs of a heart attack include tightness or pain in the chest, discomfort in other parts of the upper body (such as the back or jaw, shortness of breath), unusual fatigue and nausea. Women can be more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, or back or jaw pain.
The most common symptom of a stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, most often on one side of the body. Other signs include sudden confusion, trouble seeing or blurred vision, dizziness or loss of balance and a sudden severe headache with no known cause.
“Anyone who thinks they might be experiencing heart problems should call 911 immediately,” Malone said. “Time is of the essence when dealing with heart attack or stroke. Getting a patient medical attention as soon as possible is critical to survival and recovery.”
Maury Regional Medical Center boasts an average door-to-balloon time — the time between a patient’s arrival at the hospital to when a blocked artery is opened — of 53 minutes, according to Malone. That is 37 minutes ahead of the standard time recommended by American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines (90 minutes).
Once you’ve spoiled your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this month, do a little something for yourself: learn about your risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The knowledge you gain may just save your life.
MRMC is recognized as a Chest Pain Center with PCI by the American College of Cardiology and holds certification in the treatment of heart failure from The Joint Commission. Learn more at MauryRegional.com/heart.