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Published on February 13, 2020

Learn the Basic Facts of Heart Health This February

American Heart Month is an ideal time of year to review heart health basic facts and the steps everyone can take to reduce the risks of heart disease.

Since it remains the leading cause of death for American men and women, accounting for one in four deaths overall, Avera joins the American Heart Association in reminding everyone of key risk factors such as:

  • Being overweight due to poor diet or a lack of exercise
  • A family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure and blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes and smoking

“Keep regular appointments with your primary care provider, and ask about heart disease risk factors,” said Tarek Mahrous, MD, FACC, of North Central Heart, a division of the Avera Heart Hospital. “The recommended screenings for cardiac health are affordable and often easy, and they could save your life.”

Like cancer screenings, tests such as blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar and specialized cardiac screenings can make a difference. While heart disease can have a genetic link to individuals, people can take action to prevent or lessen the risks of coronary-artery disease. Some can be controlled.

“Follow your doctor’s instructions about medications for conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and follow a diet low in salt, saturated fat and cholesterol,” Mahrous said. “Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, each day, along with 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five times a week – these are common sense approaches that are also priorities for heart health.”

Even a little exercise is better than none, and people are encouraged to make brisk 10-minute walks a part of a daily routine. Quitting smoking, using a cessation program to help if needed, is another critical step people can take to help improve health.

Avera programs like Planet Heart can add important information to your medical record. This cardiovascular screening includes CT calcium scoring, and it’s convenient and affordable. It’s recommended for men 45 and older as well as for women 50-55.

How to respond to heart attack emergencies is among the most vital basic facts people to know. If you or someone you love experiences these signs – call 911:

• Chest pain or discomfort.

• Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper abdomen.

• Shortness of breath.

• Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.

“More people must understand the symptoms and remember that waiting can be deadly. Call 911,” said Mahrous. Interventions to prevent further damage due to heart attack include the placement of primary stents or the administration of thrombolytic “clot-busting” drugs. “These treatments can save lives and heart muscle, but timing is important,” Mahrous said. “It’s important to get help as soon as symptoms appear.”

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