February is Heart Month.
Dear Doc: I am a 55-year-old male. Someone told me that February is Heart Month! My father passed away from a heart attack. What can I do to reduce my chance of heart disease?
Dear Reader: February, the second month of the year, has 28 days in common years, and 29 days in (leap) years divisible by the number four. February's birthstone is Amethyst. Aquarius (1/20 to 2/18) and Pisces (2/19 to 3/20) are the astrological signs of the month. In February, we celebrate Lincoln's (the 12th) and Washington's (the 22nd) birthdays. Groundhogs Day, Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, not to mention the Independence Days of Sri Lanka and the country of Estonia fall within February's days! February is also, indeed, Heart Month in the United States. Heart month was created to increase awareness of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US among both woman and men. One in four deaths is due to heart disease. There will be 735,000 heart attacks this year. 525,000 of those will be first time heart attacks with 210,000 of the heart attacks being repeat attacks. A heart attack occurs every 43 seconds in the US!
Heart attack symptom's may not always be as obvious as the classic textbook symptoms: sub sternal chest pain with pain radiating down the left arm. Heart attack symptoms may also include (with or without chest pain), indigestion, shortness of breath, palpitations, back pain, or simply arm pain. If you feel you might be having a heart issue, don't waste time - call 911 and seek treatment immediately. Early treatment saves lives, and it is always better to be safe than sorry!
But to your point, what can you do to reduce your chances of heart disease, it's as simple as the ABCs!
A simple aspirin a day is recommended for all those with KNOWN heart disease. Aspirin's blood thinning helps prevent second heart attacks. It is also recommended for those with a high risk for heart disease. Aspirin is not safe for everyone. Aspirin can cause ulcers, bleeding, allergic reactions, and in some cases kidney issues. Discuss with your doctor if the benefits of aspirin in preventing heart disease outweigh the risks of taking a daily aspirin.
B. Blood Pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke. One in three US adults or about 70 million people have high blood pressure in the US. Many may not know they even have high blood pressure as it is often asymptomatic until a serious health issue arises. It is estimated that only half of those with high blood pressure have their condition under control! Those with high blood pressure are four times more likely to die from a stroke and three times more likely to die from heart disease then those with normal blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked regularly and treated if necessary.
High cholesterol leads to plaque in arteries which in turn increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. There is good cholesterol (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Get your cholesterol tested. If your bad cholesterol is elevated, discuss diet, exercise and possible medications with your doctor to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease.
It is estimated that there are 20 percent more heart attacks on Mondays then other days of the week! Stress causes a rise in the "stress hormones" norepinephrine and cortisol that may increase your blood pressure. Some studies revealed that stress triggers your immune system to be in high gear producing more white blood cells and inflammation. This inflammation may contribute to blocking arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease. Find healthy ways to relieve stress. Yoga, exercise, and meditation all have been shown to improve the sense of well-being and reduce stress.
Smoking promotes plaque and blocked arteries. Even second hand smoke has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by 20 to 30 percent. Don't smoke and avoid smokers if you are serious about preventing heart disease.
Assuming an average heart rate of 80 beats per second, your heart will beat about 115,000 times per day, 42 million times per year, and over 3 billion times in a lifetime if you reach age 80! In February, take the time to take care of your heart. Talk to your doctor about aspirin, blood pressure control, smoking cessation and stress reduction! Stay healthy, and remember the quote by Helen Keller, "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."
Dr. Nagpaul is a medical doctor and is board-certified in Internal Medicine. He currently is the Medical Director at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, DeMay Living Center and Wayne County Public Health. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider. To send questions to our medical providers, please email Dr. Nagpaul at Arun.Nagpaul@rochesterregional.org and put “Ask a Doc” in the subject line.
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