February marks heart health month. This is a great time to learn more about how important good heart health is and take the necessary steps towards a healthier lifestyle. This month brings awareness about the silent killer – heart disease. If you didn’t already know, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.
What is heart disease?
When people talk about heart disease, they are usually talking about coronary heart disease (CHD), the most common type. It causes the coronary arteries (tubes) that take blood to the heart to become narrow or blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material, called plaque, build up inside the arteries.
Plaque is caused by:
- Too much fat and cholesterol in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Too much sugar in the blood (diabetes)
Some common signs of a heart attack
- Pain or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest – or a feeling of pressure, squeezing, or fullness
- Pain or discomfort in the upper body – like the arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper stomach (above the belly button)
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing (while resting or being active)
- Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
- Stomach ache or feeling like you have heartburn
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or unusually tired
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
Not everyone who has a heart attack will have all the signs. Don’t ignore changes in how you feel. Signs of a heart attack often come on suddenly. But sometimes, they develop slowly – hours, days, or even weeks before a heart attack happens. Talk to your doctor if you feel unusually tired for several days, or if you develop any new health problems (like pain or trouble breathing). If you’ve had a heart attack in the past, it’s important to know that symptoms of a new heart attack might be different from your last one.
Controlling and preventing risk factors is just as important for healthy people as it is for people who already have heart disease. Some tips to help lower your risk include:
- Eat healthy.
- Get active.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Manage stress.
Some other interesting facts
- Studies have shown yoga is effective in slowing down your heart rate, which can help lower your blood pressure. [American Heart Association]
- Laughing may increase overall health. Research suggests a good laugh can increase your blood flow by 20%. The positive effects of this can last for 24 hours. [American Heart Association]