Valentine’s Day is a time of flowers, chocolate hearts, and celebrations of love and life. For thousands of years, the heart has symbolized love and passion and has inspired great poetry, literature, art, and music. But maybe this year we should start a new tradition on Valentine’s Day: To check in with ourselves and those around us to look for signs of heart disease.
There are several types of heart disease, with coronary artery disease being the most common. It is estimated that more than 80 million Americans have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.
All told, some one million people a year will die of heart disease. Though one of the risk factors is advancing age, more than 150,000 heart disease and stroke deaths every year are among people younger than 65. With the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates in children, we will likely see increased rates of heart disease and stroke occurring at earlier ages.
Heart disease is more common in men, particularly those with a strong family history, but it can strike anyone without warning at any time. Many people do not realize that, in addition to men, heart disease is the number one cause of death in women.
It is critical to recognize the symptoms of a possible heart attack and take immediate action. Don’t assume that it is indigestion or a muscle ache from overexertion. When in doubt, check it out.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or discomfort such as a feeling of squeezing, fullness, or pressure
- Pain in the upper arms (more common in men)
- Pain in the back, jaw or stomach (more common in women)
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea/vomiting (more common in women)
- Profuse sweating
- Unexplained anxiety (more common in women)
If you think that you are having a heart attack:
- Do not wait
- Call 911 – do not have a relative drive you to the hospital or worse, drive yourself
- Immediately chew an uncoated adult aspirin or 3 baby aspirin (an aspirin must be chewed and not swallowed whole to offer heart protection benefits).
Remember: Time is critical in protecting your heart muscle.
Healthinaging.org has a wealth of information about the causes and symptoms of different types of heart disease. You will also find information about ways to prevent a heart attack through lifestyle choices such as not smoking, eating a heart healthy diet, and exercising.
A healthy heart is the best Valentine’s Day present we can give to ourselves and to those around us. I encourage you to celebrate this Valentine’s Day by doing something good for your heart!