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Take steps to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease

Every February we come together to celebrate Heart Health Month, first proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Dec. 30, 1963. As a nation, community, medical team, and individuals we share a common goal to encourage and promote heart health to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans, but through awareness, medical advances, and research we have been able to make an impact and help patients live longer. Although genetic factors play a part, individuals can focus on remaining factors and reduce their risk up to 80%.

The first step in addressing heart disease is knowing your numbers. Weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are key risk factors for heart disease. By tracking your values you can modify your lifestyle to reach your optimal results. Your healthcare provider can help determine your goals and develop a plan to meet your goal safely.

Evaluate your lifestyle including exercise, smoking cessation, eating habits, and stress level. Making sure you get plenty of rest can also be important for overall health. Make positive changes, one at a time, and soon it will not be an effort.

Know your risk factors and maintain close follow up with your provider. Hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, tobacco use and obesity can all lead to heart disease. Many factors can be modified just by basic choices and you can reduce your risk significantly. Learn resources available to support your plan and lean on your healthcare team to guide you.

Most importantly be responsive. Many times we ignore warning signs of heart disease and don’t seek medical attention until it is too late. If you do not feel well you should always seek medical attention to sort out your symptoms even if it turns out to be nothing serious. People can experience classic symptoms of heart disease but this is not always the case. Heart attack symptoms include chest pain, tightness, pressure, heartburn, back pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, arm, or neck pain. People with diabetes don’t always have classic symptoms but may feel more short of breath and fatigued. Women may also experience vague symptoms and tend to wait longer before coming to the hospital. The sooner you are evaluated the less risk you have for long-term complications. You can never go wrong seeking medical attention even if your evaluation is normal.

Other related cardiovascular diseases include stroke, congestive heart failure, and peripheral arterial disease. Once you are identified to have heart disease we assume you can have blockage in other areas of your body and will monitor you for related symptoms. Stroke can be caused from blockage in the carotid arteries. Symptoms can include dizziness, headache, weakness, inability to talk, or facial drooping. Immediate evaluation is recommended so all treatment options are available to reduce long-term complications. Pain in your legs when you walk, particularly in the calf muscle, can be a sign of peripheral arterial disease. Leg swelling, difficulty breathing when lying down, and progressive shortness of breath can be signs of congestive heart failure. By addressing risk factors, lifestyle choices, and proper medical follow up you can reduce complications for all related cardiovascular diseases.

Common educational resources include American Heart Association, www.heart.org, Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, and Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org.

Together we can celebrate Heart Health Month, raise awareness and urge friends and family to take steps in staying healthy.

Agnes Delaney, PA-C of Vidant Cardiology Washington can be reached at 252-974-9460.