February 6, 2014

February is American Heart Month

Photo: A man in military uniform and woman make a heart shape with hands
February is American Heart Month.  Heart disease is a major problem nation wide.  Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack.  About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year—that’s 1 out of every 4 deaths.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.  To learn more about heart disease, care, and prevention continue reading the information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that follows below:

The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type in the United States is coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease), which occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Coronary heart disease can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.

Heart Attack Symptoms
The five major symptoms of a heart attack are:
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 immediately.
Plan for Prevention
The situation is alarming, but there is good news—heart disease is preventable and controllable. We can start by taking small steps every day to bring our loved ones and ourselves closer to heart health.  Some health conditions and lifestyle factors can put people at a higher risk for developing heart disease. You can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any medical conditions you may have.  As always, check with your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes.

  • Eat a healthy diet.  Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications.  Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—adults should have at least 5 servings each day.  Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol.  Limiting salt or sodium in your diet also can lower your blood pressure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease.  Check with your health care provider to determine whether your weight is in a healthy range. 
  • Exercise regularly.  Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.  Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting any new fitness regime.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.  High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.  You can check your blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy, or at a doctor's office.  Talk to your health care provider about a talking blood pressure machine if you have vision loss.
  • Don't smoke.  Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease.  If you don't smoke, don't start.  If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible.  Your health care provider can suggest ways to help you quit.
  • Limit alcohol use.  Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure.  Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day, and women to no more than one.  
  • Have your cholesterol checked.  Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years.  Talk with your doctor about this simple blood test.
  • Manage your diabetes.  If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your doctor about treatment options. Talk to your health care provider about a talking glucometer if you have vision loss.
  • Take your medicine.  If you're taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions carefully.  Always ask questions if you don't understand something.

One Step at a Time
As you begin your journey to better heart health, keep these things in mind:
  • Don't become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a healthier heart.
  • Don't go it alone. The journey is more fun when you have company. Ask friends and family to join you.
  • Don't get discouraged. You may not be able to take all of the steps at one time. Get a good night's sleep and do what you can tomorrow.
  • Reward yourself. Find fun things to do to decrease your stress. Round up some friends for a walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with your family or friends.
Use Your Resources
The Veterans Health Adminstration has launched the MOVE!® weight self-managment program for Veterans who want to improve their health. The first step is to let your VA primary care team know that you are interested in participating.
  1. Your VA Primary Care Team will encourage you to complete the MOVE!23 Questionnaire. You can complete this at the VA, or you can do this now at www.move.va.gov/mov23.asp.
  2. The MOVE!23 produces a report based on your answers to help identify your specific needs. Print your report and take it with you to your next primary care visit.
  3. The team will help you set some initial goals such as how much total weight you want to lose, how much you want to lose each week, and your plans for increasing activity and decreasing calories.
  4. With your teams's guidance, you will choose from the support options available at you facility.  Support options may include group classes, telephone support, and specialty consultations.

Click on the image below to play a brief VA video on the MOVE weight mangment program

CLICK HERE to visit the CDC Heart Month Website

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