February is National Heart Month

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As we learn more about heart diseases, we also learn about the steps we can take to help keep our hearts healthy. As February comes to a close, make a decision to keep your heart healthy, or to develop a plan to return your heart to good health.

There are several risk factor for heart disease (heart attack and smoke) that you can control or that can be treated: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, inadequate exercise, obesity, and diabetes. These risk factors are all interrelated.

High cholesterol has no symptoms. Unless you have the results of a blood test to measure both LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol) you may not know that you have too much of this soft substance, similar to fat, circulating in your blood vessels, the risk of heart attack and stroke increases. Whole arteries can be blocked, or bits of the buildup can break off and travel to other parts of the body preventing blood flow to vital organs. Find out what your cholesterol level are and work with your healthcare professional to lower them if necessary. A diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol is usually recommended. Exercise also helps, but some may need medication to lower the level of cholesterol is usually recommended.

High blood pressure also has no symptoms which has earned it the name “Silent Killer”. It makes your heart work harder which makes both your heart and your arteries susceptible to injury and/or disease. If you are 20 or more pounds overweight, you are more likely to have high blood pressure than someone with a healthy weight for their age and height. In your periodic visits to your healthcare professional, it is common practice to take your blood pressure, regardless of the reason you are visiting. You can also get your blood pressure taken at most pharmacies and senior citizen centers. Ask for the numbers and see if they fall within the norms ser by the American Heart Association for healthy blood pressure (120/80 mm Hg.). If your blood pressure is high, work with your healthcare professional to make a plan to lower it as soon as possible. The plan may include lifestyle changes like weight loss and regular exercise, reducing fat and salt in your diet, or taking medication in addition to diet and lifestyle changes.

Smoking is another factor that can be controlled. Think about not only the cigarettes or cigars that you smoke, but also the second hand smoke from others that also increases your risk. The good news is that research shows us that when you stop smoking, no matter how long you have smoked, your risk for heart attack and stroke begins to drop. Risk is cut in half after one year without smoking, and continues to drop until it is as low as a non-smoker.

Inadequate exercise is a risk factor that can be eliminated with as little as 30 minutes a day of physical activity for most healthy people. Walking, dancing, gardening, and housework are activities that help you don’t have to become a tri-athlete to reduce your risk of heart disease with exercise. If 30 minutes seems too much to do at one time, start with 10 minutes exercise and then work up to more. Check with your healthcare professional before starting an exercise plan.

Obesity or being overweight can be dealt with by a sensible plan of eating and exercise that will help you reach a healthy weight and stay there. Avoid fad diets that are advertised as helping you lose weight fast. To stay off, the weight must come off slowly – no more than one to two pounds per week. Your healthcare professional or registered dietitian can help you set up a sensible plan of not less than 1200 calories a day. It will take time, and having support of your family and/or friends helps you stay with it for the long haul.

Diabetes is becoming an increasing problem in this country and is no longer a disease confined to middle age and overweight people. When women with diabetes were compared to women without diabetes, the risk of heart disease increases two to four times. Diabetes is treatable. If you have a family history of diabetes, ask your healthcare professional for a fasting blood sugar test. If you develop diabetes, you must have regular medical checkups and work closely with you healthcare professional to manage your diabetes and eliminate other risk factors that can be controlled.

There are risk factors that we cannot control and that we need to be aware of. Specifically, we cannot control our age, gender, family history and race. As we get older, the more likely we are to develop heart attack or stroke. Men have a greater risk of heart attack that women, and they have them at a younger age. Women who are pregnant, take birth control pills and smoke, or stroke. If family members had heart attacks or stroke, you may be at risk, too. Heart disease risks are higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, and native Hawaiians, due in part to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. African Americans have a higher risk than Caucasians.

Regardless of race, most people with a strong family history or heart disease or stroke have at least one other risk factor. Control your risk factors if you can, and manage your stress. Increased stress can lead you to overeating or having that extra cigarette and other activities that increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. It is also true that a previous heart attack or stroke can make us susceptible to another stroke. To learn more, go to www.americanheart.org.

For more information about HealthCare Professional, please visit Americancollegeofnursing.com

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