National Heart Health Month Brings Awareness to Heart Disease


According to the American Heart Association, heart disease strikes someone in the United States about once every 43 seconds.  

Heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of plaque on the arteries inner walls. Plaque is the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. As plaque continues to build up in the arteries, blood flow to the heart is reduced, which can lead to a heart attack.

The American Heart Association states that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing over 375,000 people a year. Also, it is the number one killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

According to ARH Cardiologist Pablo Lopez, MD, once you get heart disease, you will always have it. “There are effective medicines to slow the progression and procedures which can help blood and oxygen flow to the heart, but arteries remain damaged” Lopez explained. “Also keep in mind the condition of your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you make changes in your daily habits, take your medicines and control your risk factors.

The American Heart Association gauges the cardiovascular health of the nation by tracking seven key health factors and behaviors that increase risks for heart disease and stroke. These are called “Life’s Simple 7” which focuses on not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Key facts related to these factors include:  

Smoking -- Worldwide, tobacco smoking (including secondhand smoke) was one of the top three leading risk factors for disease and contributed to an estimated 6.2 million deaths in 2010.

Physical Activity -- About one in every three U.S. adults – 31 percent – reports participating in no leisure time physical activity.

Healthy Diet -- Less than one percent of U.S. adults meet the American Heart Association’s definition for “Ideal Healthy Diet.” Essentially no children meet the definition. Of the 5 components of a healthy diet, reducing sodium and increasing whole grains are the biggest challenges.

Overweight/Obesity -- Most Americans older than 20 are overweight or obese. Over 159 million U.S. adults – or about 69 percent – are overweight or obese. About 32 percent children are overweight or obese.

Cholesterol -- About 43 percent of Americans have total cholesterol higher of 200 mg/dL or higher.  

High Blood Pressure -- About 80 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure. That’s about 33 percent. About 77 percent of those are using antihypertensive medication, but only 54 percent of those have their condition controlled.

Blood Sugar/Diabetes -- About 21 million Americans have diagnosed diabetes. That’s almost 9 percent of the adult population, but diabetes rates are growing. In fact, about 35 percent of Americans have pre-diabetes.  

Regarding these seven key health factors, Lopez emphasized: “Pay attention to these health factors and talk to your healthcare provider about making necessary changes to your lifestyle so you can improve your heart health.”

Know the Warning Signs
Many people delay getting help during a possible heart attack because they think their symptoms may turn out to be a false alarm – but every minute counts. If you or a loved one experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate attention – even if you're not sure it's a heart attack.

Chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes. The discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; range from mild to severe; and come and go.

Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath.

Other symptoms, such as nausea, light-headedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.

In women as with men, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, especially shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Your healthcare provider can determine your risk of heart attack, and can provide information about various tools you can use to protect your heart, including smoking cessation programs, an exercise regimen, nutrition counseling, blood pressure screenings and cholesterol testing.

For a healthcare professional close to you, go online to Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) at or call your local ARH hospital.

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