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Check your own heart on Valentine's
Health advice
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With Valentine’s Day just a week away, it’s a great time to take a look at the state of your own heart before you start seeking candy and paper hearts for your favorite people. Coronary heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States and the causes of this disease are not a mystery. Healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent disease and markedly improve a person’s quality of life. Do you know your risk for coronary heart disease?
February is National Heart Month so take a few minutes to assess the health status of your body and start with your heart. Are you one of the more than 70 million Americans who currently have some form of cardiovascular disease?
One person dies every 35 seconds from cardiovascular disease - that’s over 910,000 Americans every year and equates to 40 percent of all U.S. deaths. In 2004, Georgian’s cardiovascular disease death rate was 14% higher than the National rate due mainly to preventable risk factors such as smoking, diet, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, high cholesterol and obesity.
Heart disease doesn’t just kill the elderly, it is the leading cause of death for all Americans age 35 and older. It accounts for over one million deaths each year and in 160,000 of those deaths the individuals were 35 to 64 years old. The number of sudden deaths from heart disease among people aged 15-34 has increased dramatically in recent years. Some people believe that the path to heart disease begins in their middle years, but it doesn’t; it begins in childhood. Obesity and high blood pressure are becoming more prevalent in children and young adults. By introducing the concepts of regular exercise, good nutrition and avoiding smoking, children can make heart-healthy habits part of their lifestyle for the rest of their lives.
Coronary heart disease is also a leading cause of premature, permanent disability in our workforce. Stroke alone accounts for disability among more than 1 million Americans and almost 6 million hospitalizations each year are due to cardiovascular disease. The economic impact of cardiovascular disease on the U.S. health care system continues to grow as the population ages. Last year, the cost of heart disease and stroke in the United States was believed to be $403 billion, including health care expenditures and lost productivity from death and disability.
Heart disease claims the life of one out of every three women. Women’s heart disease symptoms may be different from those in men.  Women may experience a severe migraine headache or an upset stomach instead of pain in the left arm or chest. Because they aren’t the usually discussed symptoms experienced by men, women often ignore symptoms because they don’t attribute them to heart disease. African American women are 72 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease than white women. Another interesting but unsettling fact is that more female Hispanic Americans die from heart disease and stroke than cancer, diabetes and accidents combined. Women who smoke risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than nonsmoking women.
The two major independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. About 90 percent of middle-aged Americans will develop high blood pressure in their lifetime, and nearly 70 percent of people with high blood pressure do not have it under control.
You are also at increased risk for cardiovascular disease if you have diabetes and a family history of heart disease at a young age. The remaining health-related behaviors are “modifiable”, which means that you can change your behavior to slow or reverse risks of heart disease. These factors play an extremely large role in cardiovascular disease; they are:  

“    Tobacco use - smokers have twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers and 1/5 of the annual 1,000,000 deaths from CVD are attributable to smoking.
“    Lack of physical activity - people who are sedentary have twice the risk of heart disease as those who are physically active. Despite these risks, America remains a predominantly sedentary society. Surveys show that more than half of American adults do not practice the recommended level of physical activity, and more than one-fourth are completely sedentary.
“    Poor nutrition - between 20% and 30% of the nation’s adults (some 58 million people) are obese and thus have a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes. Only 27% of women and 19% of men report eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Although these risk factors are more common among people aged 65 years or older, the number of sudden deaths from heart disease among people aged 15-34 has increased. It is therefore very important to know the signs and symptoms of heart attacks and stroke and the importance of calling 911 quickly. Nearly 70% of deaths from heart disease occur before a person can be admitted to a hospital, and about 48% of stroke victims die before emergency medical personnel arrive.

Dial 9-1-1  Heart attack and stroke are life-and-death emergencies - every second counts. If you, or someone with you, has one or more of the symptoms below, call 9-1-1 immediately. Not all of these signs occur in every heart attack or stroke and symptoms may sometimes go away and return. When symptoms occur, get help fast! Heart attack and stroke victims can benefit from new medications and treatments that were unavailable in years past. Check the time when the first symptoms appeared. Clot-busting drugs can stop some heart attacks and strokes in progress, reducing disability and saving lives; but to be effective, these drugs must be given relatively quickly after heart attack or stroke symptoms first appear. Don’t delay — get help right away!

Heart Attack Warning Signs:
“    Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.  
“    Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.  
“    Shortness of breath. This feeling often accompanies chest discomfort but it can occur before the chest discomfort.  
“    Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

See next week’s article for additional information on strokes and what can be done to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.

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