When we think of February our thoughts go to Valentine’s Day. It is the celebration of love, romance, and heartfelt feelings. So, it is fitting that it be known as American Heart Month. Heart disease, or the broader category of cardiovascular disease, is the number one cause of death, illness, and disability in America. The conditions include:
One condition can lead to another. For example, a type of irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation, may feel like your heart is jumping around in your chest and can cause chest pain. This condition can cause a blood clot to form in your heart. That clot can move to your brain and cause a stroke. The stroke may leave you with a disability and not able to speak.
There are preventive measures that can reduce our risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association has a program called My Life Check- Life’s Simple 7 that includes 7 areas to focus on.
Effectively managing these 7 areas of our lives is important but can be hard. There is good news. From 1999 to 2016 there was a decrease in smoking and better control of our blood pressure and cholesterol. We still need to work on weight, diet, and blood sugar control but we have made progress! We just need to step it up a bit. The pandemic has made this harder. It has disrupted our daily lives but we cannot lose sight of what we need to do to be our healthiest selves.
February is not just Heart Month. It is also Black History Month. Heart disease and the risks factors for it are very common in minorities. The attention to risk factors can save lives and decrease illness and disability. Also, the two February observances come together in this neat anecdote: in 1893, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African American doctor, performed the first successful operation on the covering of the heart! In his honor, Howard University Hospital announces its medical emergencies as “Dr. Dan”.