February is Heart Health Month, as well as “Go Red for Women” month to raise awareness that heart disease affects women and men equally.
Heart disease claims 1 million lives annually in the United States. It is an “equal opportunity killer;” claiming nearly equal male and female lives. The heart is a muscle and pump, and it needs good blood flow and a strong pumping mechanism to work well. The most common types of heart disease are coronary artery disease that blocks or narrows the arteries that feed blood to the heart muscle, or myocardial infarction, otherwise known as “heart attack.” A heart attack happens when an artery to the heart muscle suddenly gets blocked, cutting off blood supply and causing damage.
The top five conditions that put you at most risk for developing heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and obesity. Having a strong family history of heart problems, especially for those younger than 50, is also a risk factor doctors take seriously.
The good news is, even with a family history or if some of the risk factors apply to you, heart disease is not a death sentence. There are many things each of us can do to help keep our arteries and heart muscle healthy.
Know your numbers! Have blood pressure, glucose levels and cholesterol levels checked periodically. You won’t feel it if your numbers are high, so it’s worth it to have regular screenings.
Life choices such as diet, smoking, exercise all affect heart health. Good emotional health is also important, such as feeling loved, and having strong family and friend relationships. These connections lower stress, which, if not managed, puts hormones into the bloodstream that can raise blood pressure and blood sugar.
Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. Treat it well and it will treat you well for a lifetime!
Dr. Amy Blaising Wallace, author of this article, is a family physician with One Team Family Health in Eaton Rapids, Mich., who sees patients of all ages. Call (517) 663-4809 for more information.