February is known as American Heart Month, a month that focuses on heart disease and how you can help prevent it by living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Heart disease can refer to several types of heart conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, and coronary artery disease. It's also the leading cause of death in the United States.
This month, I'm making my heart health a priority, and I encourage you to do the same.
Am I at risk for heart disease?
The leading risk factors of heart disease include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- an unhealthy diet
- physical inactivity
- tobacco use
- excessive alcohol use
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
It's not always easy to spot whether or not you have heart disease. Sometimes you don't know until a medical emergency occurs, like a heart attack or heart failure.
For women specifically, some may show no signs of heart disease while others have:
- heavy or sharp chest pain
- neck, jaw, or throat pain
- upper abdomen or back pain
Can I prevent heart disease?
You may not be able to prevent it completely, but you can help lower your risk for heart disease by:
- checking your blood pressure. Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease, so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
- knowing your blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can develop fatty deposits into your blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to get through your arteries. This can cause blood clots and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- eating a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet should include foods that can help lower the "bad" cholesterol and raise the "good" cholesterol in your body. These foods include oats, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fatty fish.
staying physically active. Regular physical activity can help reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels, and help control your weight.
- quitting smoking. Smoking increases the formation of plaque in your blood vessels and causes blood to thicken and form clots inside your veins and arteries.
limiting your alcohol. Alcohol can raise the levels of fat in the blood and affect your heart's ability to pump blood. When your heart can't pump blood efficiently, the lack of blood flow can lead to heart failure and other heart problems.
- managing your stress. Chronic or long-term stress can increase your blood pressure and inflammation in your body, raising your risk for heart disease.
**Talk to your doctor about your risk for heart disease before making any serious changes to your lifestyle.
And remember to take extra good care of your heart this month (and every month).
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