February is American Heart Month- a month to pause and consider our heart health. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death for Americans, both male and female. Males are at greater risk above age 45, while women are at greater risk above age 55. Other risk factors for heart disease include elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, family history of heart disease, diabetes and smoking. New blood pressure guidelines recommend stricter control- favoring strict diet and exercise with all individuals having a blood pressure over 120/80. Patients with a history of cardiovascular disease or an increased risk of cardiovascular disease may be started on medication with blood pressures greater than 130/80. Cholesterol levels are checked with fasting lab and target goals are different based on past medical history. Yearly physicals are your best bet to screen for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Traditional symptoms of heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath and pain that radiates into your jaw, left shoulder and arm. Other symptoms include back pain, nausea, vomiting, and chest tightness. BUT, women and diabetics are especially prone to nonspecific symptoms for heart attack. Shortness of breath or chest pain are red flags for heart disease and do need to be evaluated.

Generally, the best way to fight heart disease, is to prevent it! A low fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is recommended. If using cooking oils, olive oil is generally best. Limit salt intake. Instead, flavor food with spices and lemon juice. Watch out for processed, canned and fast food as they are notoriously high in both fat and salt. Remember to exercise at least 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes. Aerobic exercise is best for heart health and would include walking, jogging, swimming, aerobics, etc… If you have a history of lung disease, heart disease or chest pain with activity, please contact your provider before starting an exercise program.

As you stroll the store aisles for Valentine’s Day, remember- chocolate is fleeting, flowers may wilt, but a healthy heart is romantic for years.  JW