February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. How much do you actually know about heart disease? Here’s everything you need to know.
The heart is like any other muscle in the body and requires adequate blood supply to provide oxygen to allow the muscle to contract and pump. Not only does the heart pump blood to the rest of the body, it also pumps blood to itself via the coronary arteries. These arteries originate from the aorta (the major blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood away from the heart) and then branch out along the surface of the heart.
When one or more coronary arteries narrow, it can make it difficult for adequate blood to reach the heart, especially during exercise. This can cause the heart muscle to ache like any other muscle in the body. Should the arteries continue to narrow, it may take less activity to stress the heart and provoke symptoms. The classic symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath due to atherosclerotic or coronary artery disease are called angina.
Should one of the coronary arteries become completely blocked, usually due to a blood clot that forms, blood supply to part of the heart muscle is completely lost and that piece of muscle dies. This is a heart attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), here are the numbers:
- Roughly 655,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year –that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
- One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
- Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 365,914 people in 2017.
- Every year about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
- About 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.
Are You At-Risk?
High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are the biggest risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Improve Your Chances
Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making positive lifestyle changes including:
- Quit smoking
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day at least 3-5 times per week
- Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce and manage stress
- Practice good hygiene