Welcome, February! Did you know that along with Valentine’s Day, it is American Heart Month? First began in 2003, the National Wear Red day was started to educate men and women alike on how to take care of their own heart and is most knowingly symbolized by the red dress.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States with 1 in 4 deaths being claimed each year. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the conditions and choices that can put a person at risk for heart disease include diabetes, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use. Symptoms of heart disease include heart attack, arrhythmia, heart failure and stroke.”

Heart disease can have two components, but not necessarily. One is coronary artery disease (CAD) which is a disease of the blood vessels, next is atrial fibrillation (a-fib) which is an electrical issue within the heart. Both CAD and a-fib are associated with other health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, obesity, stress, and inflammation.

Today I would first like to provide some information about CAD, a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries decreasing oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis.

The good news is that CAD may be prevented by managing your health. In other words, own it. Make regular visits to your physician, keep your blood pressure in check, be proactive by seeking advice from health professionals, and making healthier choices.

You can start slowly by increasing exercise. Add plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits to your daily intake. Start reading food labels and familiarize yourself with not only calories but also contents. If you can’t pronounce a word in the ingredients list, put it back on the shelf. Decrease your sugar consumption and intake of processed foods as they are typically high in salt and sodium. Try using spices for additional flavor. Many spices have additional health properties associated with their use.

If you need to use salt, like I do, try Celtic Gray Sea Salt. One of my physicians told me about this salt and I have used it for many years. For more information about the health benefits associated with using this salt go to thttp://www.celticseasalt.com/about-us.

Let’s not forget that heart disease can affect children too. I encourage you to talk to your child’s school administrators and teachers and ask them to include exercise in the daily curriculum.

If you have a family history of heart disease and have not been diagnosed with heart disease, congratulations, keep up the good work! If you have never been screened, call your local hospitals, physicians, or caregivers about prescreening tests, special programs to keep you more informed about heart conditions, and healthier shopping habits. One option for prescreening is Life Line Screening at http://www.lifelinescreening.com/. These will prove to be invaluable resources as you age.

Now, I am going to switch gears and talk a little about a-fib, a condition where the heart beats irregularly, at a higher rate.

This is the one I am personally familiar with and take heart health seriously for this very reason. Prior to my diagnosis, I knew something was wrong and had for some time. My symptoms had gotten worse, I made an appointment with my physician who sent me to a cardiologist for further workup. There I was prescribed a 48-hour monitor. At the end of this test, nothing was found. It was explained this was not uncommon, and I was then placed on a 30-day monitor. Even though I had suspected something, at this point I had almost convinced myself to forget it, I kept thinking it was all in my head.  By the end of my 30 days, I had myself convinced. 

At my follow up visit, my cardiologist explained I had a -fib. After the explanation, everything made sense. I had been experiencing an irregular heartbeat similar to a flutter in my chest, occasionally pausing until I became short of breath, I had extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, and some chest pain. I hate to say it, but I felt relief once I had an answer.

It was further explained that because of my a-fib I had a higher risk of stroke. Blood pools in the hearts chambers leading to clots. When these clots break free they travel to other areas of the body and cause a stroke. The good news here is physicians can treat this too through many available options!

So, as I end this post, and in honor of February and heart health, if you haven’t done so already, make an appointment with your physician. Take your hearts health seriously so the beat goes on!