It’s that time of year again: the time where you see red hearts everywhere you go. Everyone is talking about love, giving tokens of affection and giving out heart shaped candies and cards. But that’s not the only thing going on in February. Not only is it almost Valentine’s Day, it is also when the American Heart Association is in full swing to educate people about their heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women nationwide. In looking at a map of the US, which shows geographical variance of the disease, Alabama and Mississippi were two of the states with the highest average of the population having some form of heart disease.
One of the things that we are seeing in the healthcare world is that younger and younger people are coming to doctors to be seen for chest pain and ultimately heart attacks. Those people that we would have once thought too “young,” “fit,” or “healthy” to have heart problems are now the ones that we are seeing with poorer outcomes than their older counterparts. Not only are heart attacks occurring earlier in adulthood, the symptoms are sometimes silent. They are not the classic presentations that we in the healthcare field look for.
I recently read a story about a 37-year-old woman who was training for her second marathon and ate fairly well. Two things she noticed were that her workouts were getting harder rather than easier, and she was experiencing terrible back pain. She pushed herself to work out harder, and chalked up the back pain to spicy food. Then she began researching her symptoms online. Her research prompted her to go to the Emergency Room where multiple tests were run. Many of the tests were negative, including an EKG, CT scan and X-rays. It wasn’t until the doctors did a cardiac catheterization (a procedure in which a catheter is run through an artery into the heart to look for blockage of arteries) that they found a 100% blockage of one of the main arteries in her heart.
Doctors also realize that treatment should be more focused on education and prevention BEFORE a heart attack occurs, than waiting to treat the patient afterward. This education should start early, before habits and lifestyles become deeply rooted. Dr. Lori Mosca, a cardiologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital had this to say in regard to healthy habits in young adulthood:
“This is a time in life when habits are firmly established, because this is a time young adults become independent. They develop lifestyles and habits they’ll carry on [as they get older]. I’m going through this myself with my son who is 25. He just moved to Colorado, is building his own house, and he’s very interested in his long-term habits, like learning to cook healthy meals. [This age] is a good time to do a self-assessment.”
Some things that young adults can begin establishing in their lives to prevent this deadly disease include:
• Regular physical activity
• More fruits and vegetables your diet everyday
• Getting enough sleep
• Limiting fast and processed foods
• A good relationship with a primary care provider
• Knowing signs and symptoms of heart attack/stroke
• Keeping weight under control
• Understanding links between pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia as they relate to future risk of heart disease
So let’s change things up this February. Instead of opting for the processed candies and other treats, let’s show our anatomical heart some love. Give your body the fuel it needs to prevent heart disease.
A good friend of mine who is a doctor once said, “Your body never forgets how to prevent what it doesn’t yet have.”
For more information on heart disease, visit www.goredforwomen.org.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN