American Heart Month

Dr. Anthony Swimm is currently a second-year family medicine resident at the Washington Health System. He is originally from “Troll Town USA”- Mount Horeb, WI. He got his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin- Platteville. He went on to attend medical school at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, WV before deciding to make Washington, PA home. In his spare time, you can find him at the gym, making music, and playing with his 2 cats.

February is his favorite month of the year, not just because of the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, but also because it is American Heart Month. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, it’s never a bad time to brush up on a few points to remember.

Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans died from heart disease in 2020? That’s about 697,000 people. The most common type of heart disease in the US is coronary artery disease (CAD). This can affect blood flow to the heart and lead to a heart attack. Every year in the US there are approximately 805,000 people that have a heart attack; and of those, about 605,000 are the person’s first.

What are common symptoms of heart disease?

  • Heart attack: chest pain/discomfort, upper back pain, neck pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
  • Arrhythmias are another type of heart disease and with this it may feel like a fluttering in your chest (palpitations).
  • Heart failure is another type of heart disease and people typically experience shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs, feet, ankles, abdomen, and neck veins.

Did you know that 1 in 3 Americans has at least one key risk factor for heart disease? The 3 key risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure

Other risk factors can be related to other diseases or may be modified with lifestyle changes and include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • diabetes
  • unhealthy diet
  • limited to no physical activity
  • excessive alcohol use
  • family history

Genetic factors likely play a role in heart disease, high blood pressure, and other conditions. However, this risk is exacerbated with unhealthy lifestyle choices (like smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity).

How do you prevent heart disease?

You have the power to help decrease your risk for heart disease. Work on living a healthy lifestyle- which can help control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

Choose healthy habits:
Limit salt in your diet to help maintain a normal blood pressure
Limit sugar in your diet to help maintain normal blood sugar levels to prevent or control diabetes.
Don’t consume excess alcohol, as this can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day, and women no more than 1 drink per day.

Manage a healthy weight:
People who are overweight or obese have increased risk of heart disease. Carrying extra weight can put more stress on the heart and blood vessels.
Physical inactivity can help you not only maintain a healthy weight, but also help reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. The Surgeon General recommends all adults get 2.5 hours of moderate activity a week. This could include a brisk walk or bicycle ride.

Don’t smoke!
If you currently are not a smoker, don’t start. If you do currently smoke, quitting can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease. There are various strategies to help people quit smoking and these include: gum, patches, support groups, journaling, meditation, physical activity, and much more.

Other ways to help reduce your risk of heart disease include checking your cholesterol levels, monitoring your blood pressure, effectively managing your diabetes, taking all of your medications as prescribed by your doctor, and regularly going to checkups with your physician.