Each February, the American Heart Association marks the month dedicated to love as the time to call attention to heart health. Although the iconic romantic symbol of a heart bears no resemblance to the physical organ that pumps blood to human tissue, the association is obvious: we should do whatever it takes to help loved ones stay healthy. I love celebrating Valentine’s Day with my wife and our son, JR. I love them both, with all of my heart. And to that end, heart disease prevention is paramount.
The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which restricts blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can lead to a heart attack. Here are some of the most common types of heart conditions:
- Aortic Aneurysm – a bulge in a section of theaorta, the body’s main artery. The aorta carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Because the section with the aneurysm is overstretched and weak, it can burst. If the aorta bursts, it can cause serious bleeding that can quickly lead to death.
- Atrial Fibrillation – often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way. When a person has AFib, the normal beating in the upper chambers of the heart (the two atria) is irregular, and blood doesn’t flow as well as it should from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (the two ventricles). AFib may occur in brief episodes, or it may be a permanent condition. I wonder if those episodes are anything like what I see on TV at the fire station. Some of that stuff the characters go through is crazy.
- Cardiomyopathy – The normal muscle in the heart can thicken, stiffen, thin out, or fill with substances the body produces that do not belong in the heart muscle. As a result, the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood is reduced, which can lead to irregular heartbeats, the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body, and heart failure.
- Congestive Heart Failure – Does not mean theheart has stopped working. Rather, it means that the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal. With heart failure, blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, and pressure in the heart increases. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs. I wonder if it would help to eat more bacon? Bacon seems to help with everything. But, in this case…maybe not?
- Coronary Artery Disease – This happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
- Heart Attack – This happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart can’t get oxygen. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.
- High Blood Pressure – A common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels (arteries) at higher than normal pressures. Sometimes called “the silent killer,” uncontrolled high blood pressure (HBP) can injure or kill because HBP has no symptoms. So victims may not be aware that their arteries, heart and other organs are being damaged.
- Pulmonary Hypertension – High blood pressure that occurs in the arteries in the lungs. It is a different measurement altogether from systemic blood pressure, reflecting the pressure the heart must exert to pump blood from the heart through the arteries of the lungs.
- Stroke – A stroke is a “brain attack,” which can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost. These seem like pretty important areas of the brain.
The best way to prepare yourself and loved ones to handle heart-related health problems is to take care of yourself:
- Eat healthy.
- Stay active. Take your dog for more walks!
- Manage stress.
- Monitor your weight.
- Quit smoking. (Or, better yet — don’t start!)
- See your doctor regularly for routine checkups and lab work.
- Familiarize yourself with heart-related signs and symptoms. And call 911 if you or someone you know is experiencing a heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest.
Heart Attack Symptoms
- Chest discomfort (It usually lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and returns. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.)
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body
FAST (Stroke Symptoms)
- Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
- Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the victim unable to speak, or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- Time to call 9-1-1– If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.
Cardiac Arrest Symptoms
- Loss of responsiveness
- Loss of normal breathing
Remember that safety is a daily priority, not just during Heart Health Month. So be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here