Say the words “plane crash,” “shark attack” and “lightning strike” and you’re likely to see people cringe in fear. Why? In these life-threatening circumstances, a lack of control is the common denominator of most Americans’ fears.
But try to breathe easy. The good news is there are steps you can take to try to control and prevent the leading cause of death among American men and women: heart disease.
February is Heart Health Month. Words like “cardiac arrest,” “heart attack” and “coronary heart disease” are everywhere, and for good reason. One in four American deaths annually are from heart disease – far more than from plane crashes, shark attacks and lightning strikes combined.
To understand how to take control of your life, you need to know the facts and warning signs.
Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions including coronary heart disease and coronary artery disease, which are often used interchangeably. Both refer to a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which supply blood to the heart. Though the risk for heart disease rises after age 45 in men and 55 in women, anyone with a sedentary lifestyle, smoking habit, or family history, or who has hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or is obese, is at risk
Heart disease can lead to heart attacks and cardiac arrest. What is the difference, you ask?
A heart attack occurs with a reduction of blood flow and oxygen to the heart due to a blockage in one or more coronary arteries. If you feel chest pain or pressure, squeezing or tightness, or experience sweating, nausea or trouble breathing, it’s important that you call 911 for help immediately. The longer you wait, the more permanent the heart damage.
Cardiac arrest consists of an abnormally fast or slow heartbeat causing blood pressure to fall and the heart may stop beating resulting in unconsciousness. If a person suddenly collapses, has no pulse and stops breathing, call for help immediately. Electric shock (defibrillation) along with CPR is needed to reset the heart’s rhythm.
The good news is that you can be proactive to save yourself and those you love. By following four simple rules that make up the acronym “CARE”, you can take steps to prevent death from heart disease, heart attacks and cardiac arrest.
• CPR saves lives. Get certified today so you know when and how to react in a cardiac emergency.
• Avoid sweets and carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes and bread. Go for lean meats and vegetables instead.
• Reduce portion sizes. Try filling a smaller plate and measuring out your food. A deck of cards is the proper size for a serving of meat, and the size of a baseball is comparable to a single rice serving.
• Exercise regularly and eliminate fast food trips. Move your body often and cook at home, where you can control what goes into your meals.
We live in an unpredictable world, but knowing you have the power and control to prevent the leading cause of death in America is one worry to take off of your list. Spread the word this Heart Health Month.
Philip Krause is a cardiologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem.