Published on February 22, 2019

woman making heart with her hands

Take Steps Toward Heart Health During American Heart Month

During February, which is American Heart Month, take steps to stay "heart healthy" for yourself and your loved ones.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. It accounts for one in four deaths overall, and one in three deaths in women, according to the American Heart Association.

Key risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure and blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes and smoking
  • Being overweight, unhealthy eating or an inactive lifestyle
  • A family history of heart disease

"When you schedule regular appointments with your doctor and discuss your risk factors, it could just save your life," said David Nagelhout, MD, FACC, of North Central Heart, a division of the Avera Heart Hospital. "Recommended screenings for cardiac health are affordable and often easy to complete. Just like cancer screenings, these tests make huge differences in outcomes for people – they just need to be done in a timely fashion."

While there are people who have heart disease in their genetic makeup, a vast majority of coronary artery disease risk is preventable, said Nagelhout. Some of the steps to cut those risks down include:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about medications for conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Eat a diet low in salt, saturated fat and cholesterol. Make sure it includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Get 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise five to six days a week. That’s the ideal, but a little exercise is better than none. Work up to the optimal level by making brisk 10-minute walks a part of your daily routine.
  • If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Incorporate a cessation program to help.

Early detection of heart disease is another life-saving step. Avera offers its Planet Heart program that screens many aspects of vascular and cardiac health in one visit for one low cost. Screenings are recommended for men 45 and older as well as for women 50-55.

Nagelhout also mentioned the "golden hour" for heart attack treatment. If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 right away:

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper abdomen.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.

"Don’t ignore these symptoms or pass them off as something else. Do not wait – call 911," said Nagelhout. In treating a heart attack, an interventional cardiologist may place a stent to open closed arteries. Thrombolytic or "clot-busting" drugs may also be administered. "The sooner appropriate treatment occurs, the better in order to stop the damage to the heart muscle."

Subscribe to our

wellness e-newsletter