Boomer Wellness - Successful Aging Through Education
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Heart Health, Part 1

Did you know that February is American Heart Month?  As such, the blog posts in the coming weeks will be devoted to teaching you ways to keep your heart healthy.  This week, I will begin with some of the basics.  You will learn if you or your loved ones are at risk for heart disease, what causes a heart attack, and how to identify the signs of a heart attack.  Certain risk factors cannot be changed, such as your age, gender, or family history.  It is the ones you CAN change, called modifiable risk factors, that will be highlighted in the following weeks.
 
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for both men and women.  You are most at risk of developing heart disease if you:
 
  • Are a woman over 55;
  • Are a man over 45;
  • Have a family history of heart disease;
  • Suffer from high blood pressure and/or cholesterol;
  • Are overweight;
  • Are a smoker;
  • Have diabetes; or
  • Are physically inactive
 
The relationship between coronary artery disease and heart attacks
 
Coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart, but can become clogged by a buildup of cholesterol known as plaque.  This condition is known as coronary artery disease, and impedes the ability of the blood to circulate easily.  Sometimes a clot develops, totally blocking the blood from reaching the heart.  It is at this point that a heart attack is likely to occur.  You may also hear doctors refer to a heart attack as a myocardial infarction, or MI.  Coronary artery disease also can cause heart failure and an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). 
 
What are the signs of a heart attack?
 
The signs of a heart attack can vary from person to person.  You may experience one or several symptoms.  If you are unsure that you are having a heart attack, err on the side of caution, and call 911 immediately.  The most frequent signs of a heart attack are:
 
  • Pain and discomfort in the chest;
  • Pain in the back, jaw, neck, arms, or upper stomach;
  • Nausea, cold sweats, or lightheadedness; and
  • Shortness of breath. 
 
Signs of a heart attack can be slightly different for women.  In fact, often times, women will dismiss their complaints as the flu or stomach bug.  Women are more likely to experience extreme fatigue and shortness of breath, even at a resting state, and pain in the jaw, back, arm, or neck, rather than the chest.  Any chest pain felt by women is more like a squeezing or fullness, rather than sharp pain felt by men. 
 
If you have any of the above signs, do not take any chances, and never attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.  Calling 911 is your first and best option to increase your chances of survival.  Recovery time after a heart attack will depend upon the extent of the damage done to the heart.  Many hospitals offer cardiac rehabilitation programs that can help you get back on track. 
 
As mentioned previously, I will be focusing on prevention of heart disease in the following weeks.  If you would like to be notified by e-mail whenever a new blog is posted, contact me at susanjhurt@gmail.com.  I will be certain to add you to my list! 

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