Heart Disease: Know The Facts, Know Your Numbers, Know The Signs

By now, most of us have heard that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one person in the U.S. dies every 37 seconds from cardiovascular disease.

Age and familial links to heart disease are the only risk factors that we cannot control. Other risk factors are almost entirely controlled by lifestyle factors:  high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being a smoker, being sedentary, not controlling your diabetes, and being overweight. The CDC reports that about 47% of Americans have either high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and/or smoke, which are all leading risk factors for heart disease. Currently the U.S. spends billions of dollars every year due to heart disease related costs such as health care services, medications, and loss of productivity at work.

On a more promising note, according to the American Heart Association, 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action. Strategies for living a long, vibrant life and reducing risk of heart disease include maintaining a healthy weight (directly involved with being more physically active and eating healthy), quitting smoking, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and knowing your heart health numbers such as cholesterol and blood pressure. High cholesterol and/or high blood pressure often display no symptoms to those who have it.  Often, we may think that we feel fine, but unhealthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels are doing internal damage to our bodies day after day.  These damages accumulate over time and cause compounding harm to our cardiovascular system and overall health.

Routinely having your numbers checked can provide reliable feedback of what may be happening inside your body. Knowing your heart health numbers is as easy as seeing your local Community Health Worker with Tri-County Health Network Community for a free wellness screen.   A quick blood pressure check, a tiny finger prick to assess cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and HbA1c, and a few health-related questions will give you a heart health score. The results from your free wellness screen can be a great start to a conversation with your doctor about strategies for staying healthy. CHW wellness screenings can be repeated as often as every 3-6 months and your CHW can help you develop an action plan to start making healthy lifestyle choices.

Lastly, know what the signs of a heart attack are.  A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced or stopped, cutting off valuable oxygen to the heart muscle. Getting to the hospital quickly at the onset of symptoms greatly reduces your chances of permanently damaging your heart. Both the immediate and long-term effects of a heart attack (death or permanent impairment) are determined by how much of the heart muscle dies.  Common warning signs of a heart attack are:  chest pain or discomfort that may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, heartburn or indigestion; pain in one or both arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw or in the stomach above the belly button; shortness of breath.  You may have one or multiple symptoms either while resting or engaging in physical activity. Other symptoms can include: feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days, nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, or breaking out into a cold sweat. Chest pain or discomfort is still the most common heart attack symptom in women, but women are sometimes more likely to feel nausea, shortness of breath, or back or jaw pain.  If you or anyone nearby are feeling ANY symptoms of a heart attack, immediately call 911 and follow the instructions of the operator.

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Ruth Homan, Community Health Worker Telluride

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