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American Heart Month Series: Know Your Risk

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Heart and Soul

It’s February and time to celebrate all matters of the heart. St. Valentine’s Day started as a Christian feast day and transformed into a day when people express love for each other with candy, flowers and valentine cards. That tradition came from England in the 1700s and remains the focus of our Valentine’s Day celebrations today.

American Heart Month

In late December 1963, President Lyndon Johnson issued Proclamation 3566 declaring February as American Heart Month. The purpose of this observance was to help “our citizens be made aware of the medical, social, and economic aspects of the problem of cardiovascular diseases, and the measures being taken to combat them.” Since that time we have used American Heart Month to focus on the importance of knowing the risks and the facts about heart disease.

The term heart disease is used to categorize a number of conditions that affect the heart, blood vessels and cardiovascular system including, but not limited to, abnormal heart rhythm, heart attack, narrowing of the arteries, heart valve disease and congenital heart defects. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in this country; more than all types of cancer deaths combined. But the good news is that many types of heart disease are preventable and treatable with medication and lifestyle changes.

A Woman’s Heart

Many people still believe that heart disease affects more men than women. The fact is one in three women die from heart disease each year, as compared to one in thirty-one deaths from breast cancer. So the American Heart Association began the Go Red For Women campaign during the first week of February to call attention to the frequency and severity of heart disease in women. The highlight of the week is National Wear Red Day held on Friday each year.

During a heart attack, men usually report severe chest pain, but women rarely do. Instead, women most often suffer from back or jaw pain, shortness of breath, upset stomach or vomiting. Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, extreme fatigue or pain in the upper abdomen or lower chest are also common for women having a heart attack. These symptoms are often ignored, and delaying treatment can cost your life. Know the signs and seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 if you experience any of these symptoms.