Valentine’s Day isn’t the only observance in February that centers on matters of the heart. All 28 days (or 29, in the case of a leap year) are part of American Heart Month.
Much of the awareness organizations such as the American Heart Association hope to raise is on the subject of heart – or cardiovascular – disease and lifestyle choices that can help prevent it. Heart disease is a broad term that includes a number of conditions involving the heart and/or vascular system. Many of these conditions are related to atherosclerosis, a process by which a material known as plaque builds up inside arterial walls. This effectively restricts the flow of blood through that area. With sufficient blockage or if a blood clot forms, it can be enough to stop blood flow through the area entirely, which in turn can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.
The most common form of stroke is the ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel that supplies the brain becomes blocked, most commonly from a blood clot. This can lead to the death of brain cells that relied on that supply. The less common hemorrhagic stroke happens after a blood vessel bursts inside the brain. In this type of stroke, the most common cause is hypertension that hasn’t been brought under control.
It’s been over five decades since the importance of heart health was officially marked with a month-long observance established by presidential proclamation. Yet, heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States: One out of every four deaths in the U.S. is the result of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. On a positive note, these conditions can often be prevented by making healthy choices and managing health conditions. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease.
To lower the risk of heart disease and its complications, the AHA recommends that people do the following:
- Watch their weight
- Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
- Control cholesterol and blood pressure
- If they drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Become active and eat healthy
- Watch their weight
Chances are, anyone interested in getting in better shape is already following these guidelines – and taking them to heart.