Every 80 seconds, a person dies from heart disease and stroke. In fact, heart disease is the number 1 killer in the United States, with an estimated 85.6 million Americans living with a cardiovascular disease in total.
Sadly, 4 out of 5 of these heart diseases are preventable. Many people don’t recognize the symptoms of health disease or how to make healthy lifestyle choices. Thanks to advances in medicine and therapy, we are gradually finding better methods to improve the outcome of illnesses affecting the heart. But the most critical way to help prevent them in the first place is through education.
This February is American Heart Month, a time to apply small lifestyle changes that make a big difference. The next few weeks mark an opportunity to help raise awareness and reduce cardiovascular health risks for all Americans.
What Is American Heart Month?
Since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the first American Heart Month, the American Heart Association (AHA) has been making strides in research and prevention of lethal heart illnesses.
The Association’s main goal is to support education and action to curb health risks. Throughout the month, the AHA launches and promotes simple awareness activities. Million Hearts, a federal initiative for heart attack and stroke prevention, is also helping to spread the message. The initiative’s focus for this month is for young people to encourage older members of their families and communities to lead healthier lifestyles.
Americans of any background can be at risk of heart disease. But women over 25, as well as African American men, are at particularly higher risk of stroke and high blood pressure, respectively. There are specific awareness programs in place to emphasize this, such as “Go Red for Women,” which aims to dispel myths about women and their risk of heart disease to save more lives.
Of course, it’s all too easy to fall into habits such as smoking, poor diet, excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, or drug abuse. Heart health starts with avoiding these risk factors – but it’s also important to recognize the signs when disease develops.
Heart Health Issues to Be Aware Of
The causes of heart disease can vary by type of disease, and there are several to look out for.
Cardiovascular disease can include more common conditions, such as coronary heart disease, valvular heart disease, heart rhythm disturbances, and birth defects. Heart attacks, for example, happen due to cholesterol plaque building up in the coronary arteries. Symptoms of this can include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and nausea.
On the other hand, some heart health problems can be less common: for example, pericardial mesothelioma. This is an especially rare form of mesothelioma – a cancer of organ linings – that affects the thin layer of tissue surrounding the heart. But while rare, the disease is lethal. The only known cause is exposure to asbestos, a mineral whose airborne fibers can become lodged in the heart tissue and cause irreversible damage to its cells. There is currently no cure.
As it is less common, pericardial mesothelioma’s risks deserve particular attention and care. Resources dedicated to learning more about this disease and effective treatment will be essential. So, while helping to draw attention to everyday lifestyle changes, it will also be important to raise awareness of asbestos and cancer risks this February.
What We Can Do to Help
In 2010, the AHA set a goal to reduce death and disability from heart disease by 20 percent before 2020. But reaching that goal will be a team effort involving every last person across the nation.
The Million Hearts website is a great resource to find out what you can do, including setting health goals, getting checkups, and talking to friends and neighbors. On Facebook, the #HeartMonth challenge sets achievable monthly challenges to ensure a healthy lifestyle.
Also, remember that February 3 is National Wear Red Day: an opportunity to wear red or hold fundraisers to support women with heart disease. You can join the conversation using #GoRedWearRed on Twitter.
To help contribute to research development and educational programs, you could also donate to the cause. The Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America raises funds specifically devoted to mesothelioma — pericardial and other types.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to advocate lifestyle changes and asbestos safety to slow the shocking rate of deaths gripping the nation – not just in February, but beyond. Together, we can all make a difference.