February is Heart Disease Awareness Month
Our hearts are one of the most important organs we have. They control the flow of blood throughout our bodies, and we often refer to them when talking about emotions. Diseases affecting our hearts and blood vessels are a serious global health threat. Each February, people around the world raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases during Heart Month.
Cardiovascular diseases, those that affect the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death around the world. More than 17 million people die each year globally from cardiovascular diseases. About 15 million people around the world have a stroke each year. While cardiovascular diseases are one of the biggest non-communicable disease threats, they often can be prevented.
There are two sets of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases: those that cannot be changed and those that can. Age, gender and family history contribute to cardiovascular diseases, but an individual is not at liberty to change those. Risk factors that can be changed include level of blood pressure and blood sugar, physical inactivity, diet and weight.
While having an individual risk factor does not mean you will develop a heart condition, they can increase the potential. Several of the modifiable risk factors are linked together. A healthy diet and physical activity can help control weight. According to the World Health Organization, more than 60% of the global population is not sufficiently active.
Another major controllable risk factor is smoking. The World Heart Federation states that smoking leads to cardiovascular diseases in more than one way. Smoking damages the lining of blood vessels and increases fatty deposits in arteries. Nicotine accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure, all of which can contribute to heart disease.
If you or a loved one is having a heart attack or stroke, there are some tell-tale signs to look for. Heart attacks can be sudden, or more subdued, but often include chest pain, discomfort in the upper body, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold sweat, and nausea.
A stroke can be easily recognized with the acronym FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty. See these and it’s Time to call emergency help.
People living with heart conditions may find themselves unaware of their surroundings or unable to help themselves in an emergency due to chest pain, shortness of breath or disorientation. Wearing a medical ID engraved with “heart condition” and “on blood thinners” if applicable can help provide safer, more accurate emergency treatment.
The World Heart Federation is an international organization leading the charge against cardiovascular diseases. In the United States, the American Heart Association is the oldest, largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The British Heart Foundationis the U.K.’s largest independent funder of cardiovascular research. In Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation strives for healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. The Heart Foundation in Australia saves lives and improves health through funding research, guiding health professionals, and informing the public.