American Heart Month: Raising Awareness of Heart Health


February is American Heart Month

Each February, we celebrate American Heart Month to raise awareness of heart health and urge Americans to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease.

On December 30, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared February American Heart Month, recognizing that heart disease was the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. At that time, more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease (CVD).

This was a pivotal point in our nation's approach to addressing CVD. However, CVD remains the number-one cause of death in both men and women, accounting for one in four deaths. The good news? CVD is both treatable and preventable.

There's no better time than the present to take action and reduce your risk of heart disease. The first step is understanding more about CVD and heart disease. Let's learn what the risk factors are and how to make heart-healthy choices.

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease can refer to a number of conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and more.

Heart disease happens when plaque builds up on the walls of arteries. If a blood clot forms, it can block the blood flow to the heart. Therefore, heart disease can lead to other CVD events, such as a heart attack or stroke. During a heart attack, blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked, resulting in the death of the heart muscle.

Most of these conditions can be treated and/or managed with the right care plan, but prevention is always best. Knowing that you may be at risk is pivotal in making lifestyle changes that can reduce your likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

There are a number of behaviors and conditions that can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and other conditions. Most of these risk factors fall into three categories:

  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol levels can be linked to diabetes, obesity, smoking, unhealthy diet, and sedentary lifestyle.
  • High blood pressure: Millions of Americans of all ages have high blood pressure, and uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the greatest risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and other harmful conditions.
  • Smoking: More than 37 million U.S. adults smoke. Smoking can damage the blood vessels and lead to heart disease.

If you are at risk for developing a heart condition, now is the time to start making heart-healthy choices.

Heart-Healthy Choices

Old habits can be hard to break, but focusing on good habits can significantly improve the long-term health of your heart.

Healthy choices include eating well, staying fit, getting enough rest, and working with your doctors and health professionals to manage conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In fact, maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are the best defense against cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA.

The AHA recommends the following diet and lifestyle habits:

  • Pay attention to your caloric intake to help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Aim for a well-balanced diet of nutritious foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Limit sugary treats, saturated fats, sodium, red meat, and alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly. Shoot for 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity.
  • Don't smoke and limit exposure to secondhand smoke when possible.

By adopting these habits, you will be well on your way to living a healthier life.

CVD and Sudden Cardiac Arrest: What's the Difference?

CVD is both treatable and preventable, but sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is not. Unfortunately, there are no warning signs associated with SCA, and anyone can be at risk. It often affects those who have previously suffered heart attacks or heart failure, but it can also strike a person with no history of heart problems.

In a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart unexpectedly and abruptly stops beating properly due to an electrical system malfunction. This is usually caused by an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF). The only effective treatment for VF is an electrical shock administered by an automated external defibrillator (AED), followed by high-quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

When treating a victim of SCA, it is important to work quickly and efficiently. CPR can preserve the victim's heart and brain until a defibrillator can restore a normal heart rhythm. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be found in many place where people congregate, enabling lay rescuers to defibrillate the victim's heart before paramedics arrive.

Final Thoughts

While heart health should be a priority every day, American Heart Month is an opportunity to take an extra step. Be proactive and learn about the warning signs of heart disease, take a class on how to perform high-quality CPR, and spread awareness about the importance of heart health. The more people who are equipped with this pivotal knowledge, the stronger and healthier our nation will be.

Are you heart smart?