February is American Heart Month. So what’s the big deal? is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. American Heart Month is important because it’s a time when we are all reminded about what we can do to protect our hearts, and why heart disease prevention and care should be at the forefront of our New Year’s resolutions and our overall health goals.
Heart disease is not just a single condition. It encompasses everything from high blood pressure to heart attack, cardiomyopathy to arrhythmia, to mention just a few. It also comes with many risk factors, some we can control and some we can’t. Although we need to be aware of the risks and dangers of heart disease all year long, observing Heart Month helps us realize just how crucial it is to recognize these risks and dangers so we do something about them.
About half of our heart disease risks are genetic – we’re born with specific genes we can’t control. These include factors like family history, age, race and gender (while men are still at greater risk than women, we women are giving them a run for their money). These can be managed with help from our doctor. The other half of our risk factors, such as having diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, drinking too much alcohol, eating an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, having sleep apnea, smoking and suffering from unmanaged stress, are treatable or can be improved with lifestyle changes.
But we can’t manage what we don’t know about. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and uncontrolled high blood pressure together represent an enormous number of heart disease cases that can be prevented with healthier lifestyle choices and proper medical care. For these conditions to be identified and treated, we need to see a healthcare provider who can measure our blood pressure, check our cholesterol levels, monitor our weight and BMI and provide other screens to detect our underlying risks for heart disease.
All in all, setting aside one month a year to give thought to heart disease and how it affects us, is not so much to ask. The results of unmanaged heart disease have touched us all in one way or another – a beloved grandparent taken before they can get to know their grandkids, a loving husband and father missing from the head of the table, a wife and mom with young kids to raise will never get to see them grow up. The consequences of heart disease can be devastating. But take heart, knowing our risk factors, modifying our behavior, getting regular checkups and following the advice of our doctors can change the course of our lives and the lives of those we love. This February, let’s worry less about how we’ll spend Valentine’s Day and more about showing some real love to our hearts.