Work on heart health this month

It should come as no surprise that February, a month during which we celebrate love and romantic matters of the heart, has been designated American Heart Month.
Contrasted with the syrupy sweetness of Valentine’s Day, American Heart Month was created to bring awareness to the stark reality that Americans suffer more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes annually — 800,000 of which result in death.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day. These conditions are also leading causes of disability preventing people from working and enjoying family activities.
In addition to the stress and sadness felt by those affected by heart disease, cardiovascular disease is also extremely expensive. Together heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost the nation more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity.
The term “heart disease” actually refers to several different heart conditions. In the U.S., the most common type is coronary artery disease, which can cause heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
According to the Center for Disease Control, Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (these are called coronary arteries). Plaque, which is made up of cholesterol deposits, can accumulate in the arteries causing them to narrow over time.
The accumulation of plaque and the narrowing of the arteries is a process called atherosclerosis.
Plaque buildup can cause angina, the most common symptom of CAD. This condition causes chest pain or discomfort because the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle leading to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can’t pump blood the way that it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can also develop.
For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when plaque totally blocks an artery carrying blood to the heart. It also can happen if a plaque deposit breaks off and clots a coronary artery.
A common symptom of CAD, Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in the chest. The pain may also occur in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back, and it may feel like indigestion.
There are two forms of angina—stable or unstable. Stable angina happens during physical activity or under mental or emotional stress. Unstable angina is chest pain that occurs even while at rest, without apparent reason. This type of angina is a medical emergency.
Heart Attack
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction (or MI), occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply. CAD is the primary cause of heart attack. About every 34 seconds, someone in the United States experiences a heart attack.

Anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms should seek emergency medical treatment immediately. Otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur and an irregular heart rhythm may develop.
The heart is a muscle, and like other muscles, the heart needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow bringing oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly become thicker and harder from a buildup of plaque.
When plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the artery and shut off blood flow to the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia
Sudden cardiac arrest—the stopping of the heart—occurs when the heart stops completely. Unless treated, a person whose heart has stopped will die within minutes.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
Certain medical conditions, in addition to lifestyle choices and inherited factors can put people at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Everyone can take steps to lower their risk of heart disease and heart attack by addressing these risk factors.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are all medical conditions that can increase an individual’s risk of developing heart disease. All of these can be monitored and treated to reduce the risk of cardiac complications.
Tobacco, diet and nutrition, exercise, obesity and alcohol consumption are all lifestyle choices which can either increase or decrease one’s risk of developing heart disease. Healthy choices obviously improve one’s overall health and lowers heart disease risk.
Heart disease can run in one’s family. Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other vascular conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and risk factors that increase their risk.