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A Month for Hearts

A Month for Hearts

Dana Lusk

A dozen roses and some chocolate are good for your health! Yes, it’s true, eating chocolate can be heart healthy if you choose the right chocolate—a dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. The best gift you can give your loved one this Valentine’s Day, though, is heart-health awareness. We hope you’ll take a few minutes during American Heart Month to discover more about your heart. Do it for yourself and your loved ones.

Learning more about heart health is crucial since heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States. Men are at greater risk of having some type of heart disease, and, while great strides have been made in encouraging women to have annual cancer screenings, women must also be aware of the prevalence of heart disease and how it affects women in particular. In fact, the American Heart Association started the Go Red for Women day to highlight awareness of specific heart disease issues affecting women. As we age, our risk of heart disease increases.

Oh, and one more statistic we should find especially concerning: deaths from heart disease are more prevalent in the South than in other parts of the country.

We’re in the South and caring for an aging population. The majority of residents at Woodland Ridge have some form of heart disease, and, unfortunately, those statistics are common. With that in mind, we want to arm you with some information you may find useful in both caring for your loved ones and yourself.

The Basics

What, exactly, is heart disease? The term “heart disease” comprises many different types of heart problems, including congestive heart failure, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and congenital heart disease. For more details, WebMD has a comprehensive list of heart disease diagnoses and a description of each one. Heart disease and related issues account for the majority of hospital admissions for Americans who are age 65 or older.

How to Know if You’re at Risk

Several risk factors are associated with heart disease. Some of those factors are within our control, but some risk factors are not. Heart disease is a hereditary disease, for instance, so your family history will play a role in determining your likelihood of having heart disease. Other risk factors that are out of our control include age, gender, and ethnicity.

But there’s good news! There are ways we can all reduce our risk of heart disease. Regular exercise and healthy eating habits can be the foundation for reducing risk not only for heart disease, but for other ailments as well, so that’s a good place to begin. If you’re a smoker, you’re at greater risk; quitting can benefit your heart as well as your lungs. If you’re overweight, losing weight can reduce your risk. If you have diabetes, you are also at greater risk of heart disease. Stress and depression can also put you at risk. Excessive alcohol consumption can elevate your risk.

Preventive Measures and Screening

Now that you’re aware of the risk factors, the preventive measures follow. Changing risk factors within your control could include smoking cessation, losing weight, changing your eating habits, and exercising more often.

Regular screenings for indicators such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and glucose levels can be beneficial in alerting you to possible warning signs of heart disease. Many hospitals and health care providers are now offering special heart screening programs, even for patients who don’t have any symptoms.

Are You Having a Heart Attack?

Is that pain in your chest indigestion? Or could it be a heart attack? The American Heart Association has compiled information regarding symptoms of a heart attack that include

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

We’re all familiar with the notion that consistent pain in the chest or arm area, especially on the left side, can indicate a heart attack. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative explains that many women ignore signs of a heart attack because the symptoms are different from what we may have imagined. Especially for women, consistent jaw pain and back pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, and dizziness/sweating can all be signs of a heart attack that shouldn’t be ignored.

Taking Care

Caregivers of heart disease patients often take the lead in making certain their loved ones remain as healthy as possible. Caregivers can help in many ways, including ensuring meals are prepared in a healthy manner, encouraging exercise, and organizing medications.

One of the most challenging issues facing caregivers and patients, however, may be managing multiple health conditions and multiple medications. Often, heart disease is only one of several medical conditions affecting a patient. The patient may see many physicians, and those physicians may not have a comprehensive understanding of the patient’s entire health profile. Assisting your loved on in communicating with all health care providers and maintaining a complete record of all medications prescribed is a top priority for ensuring appropriate treatment.

This communication and coordination is one of many reasons caregivers search for help in their caregiving role. Many options are available to assist caregivers, from in-home care to senior living communities. At Woodland Ridge, we provide a medication oversight program and serve as a partner to coordinate communication with physicians and family regarding the overall health of our residents.

Whether you’re interested in taking better care of yourself or you’re caring for a loved one with heart disease, many resources are available. We encourage you to visit the American Heart Association’s website for more detailed information about living with heart disease, and, of course, our staff is always happy to help you plan the best care possible for those you love.