The entire month of February is about heart, and it's not just about celebrating Valentine's day. February is also American Heart Month. Every year at this time, the American Heart Association (AHA) works to raise awareness about heart disease by spearheading activities in organizations and communities across the country. This heart health month is a hugely important effort; a quarter of American deaths are due to heart disease, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's About Heart
The leading cause of death in the U.S., 600,000 Americans die from heart disease every year. A large portion of these deaths are caused by sudden cardiac arrest, which is when the heart stops beating. Beyond the loss of life, heart disease costs nearly $110 billion annually. People who survive a heart attack know how life-changing it can be. Beyond having at a higher risk for injuries and falls, serious lifestyle changes are in order.
The term "heart disease" encompasses a variety of issues. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which kills nearly 380,000 people annually. Other heart diseases include:
- Heart rhythm problems.
- Enlarged heart.
- Diseases of the heart valves.
- Fluid retention.
- Inflammatory conditions.
Some people are at greater risk than others for a heart attack. It may be due to such uncontrollable factors as having a family history of heart disease or due to other diseases such as diabetes. Most of the risk factors, however, are lifestyle choices that can be changed. An important goal of heart health month is to educate people about these risk factors so they can reduce them. Some of these controllable risk factors are:
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Unhealthy diet.
- Being overweight/obese.
- Excessive alcohol use.
It's About Hope
In spite of the grim reality of heart disease numbers, there is plenty of reason for hope. Americans are gaining ground in both preventing and treating heart disease. In August 2014, the AHA reported a series of positive data on a wide variety of fronts. Most notably, both hospitalizations and deaths from heart disease have declined significantly. Hospitalizations for a variety of cardiac cases also declined:
- 38 percent drop in heart attacks.
- Nearly an 84 percent decrease in unstable anginas.
- 30.5 percent drop of heart failure.
- 33.6 percent decrease of ischemic strokes.
The AHA attributes much of this success to such clinical measures as increased use of statins (a cholesterol-lowering drug) and better control of high blood pressure. The best news, however, is the report crediting much of this success to lifestyle changes: Fewer people are smoking, and more people are eating healthy diets. Additionally, the placement of defibrillators in public places has reduced deaths from sudden cardiac arrest.
It's About Action
As positive as these developments may be, the numbers are still far too high. Too many deaths and hospitalizations are still due to lifestyle choices, making heart disease among the nation's most preventable medical conditions.
There's plenty of opportunity for caring people to pitch in to help. The best place to begin is by contacting the AHA. Get in touch with a public official, put up posters, raise and donate funds, or organize health a fair. A heart health month like February is a great time to begin, but the work needs to continue throughout the year.