COLUMBIA, Mo. — February has been designated American Heart Month by presidential proclamation since 1963 to raise public awareness and promote prevention of heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, more people die from cardiovascular disease and stroke in the United States than any other illness. Heart disease is also known as “the silent killer” because it often strikes without warning.
“Cardiovascular disease includes a number of conditions that affect the structures and function of the heart,” said Arun Kumar, M.D., a cardiologist at University Hospital. “Some of these conditions include heart failure, heart valve disease, congenital heart disease, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, pericardial disease, aorta disease and vascular disease.”
There are also several risk factors for heart disease. Some are uncontrollable factors such as age, race, gender and family history. However, other risk factors such as smoking, uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity and stress that once identified can be changed. Making lifestyle changes is a proven method for reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
Although there are no guaranteed methods of completely eliminating the possibility of cardiovascular disease, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the chances of developing heart problems and improve health in other ways. Some recommended methods that could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease include:
• Quitting smoking. Smoking is the most preventable risk factor for heart disease. Smokers also have twice as many heart attacks as nonsmokers and are much more likely to die if they do suffer a heart attack.
• Improving cholesterol levels. Have your cholesterol checked and discuss the results with your physician to learn how you can raise your good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and how you can lower your bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
• Controlling diabetes, hypertension and stress. Discuss with your physician how medication, a healthy diet and exercise can make a difference.
For those persons with uncontrollable risk factors or persons who have already developed cardiovascular disease, making lifestyle changes and seeking the proper treatment is essential.
“It is very important to learn about your heart to help prevent cardiovascular disease,” said Kumar. “And if you already have a heart condition, you can live a healthier, more active life by learning about your disease and becoming an active participant in the delivery of your health care.”
University Hospital is accredited as a chest pain center of excellence by the Society of Chest Pain Centers.