Community Blog

Love Your Heart – February is American Heart Month

By Debbie Humphrey

Cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart attack, are our nation’s No. 1 killer.  Since 1963, February has been celebrated as American Heart Month in an effort to urge Americans to join the fight against these diseases.

Facts & Figures*

  • nearly 2,300 Americans die of CVD each day, an average of one death every 38 seconds
  • about 18% of those deaths were individuals younger than 65
  • over 81 million American adults(33%) have one or more types of CVD
  • The estimated direct and indirect cost of CVD for 2010 is $503.2 billion

What is Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)?

CVD is any condition of the heart and/or blood vessels that impairs their functioning, including:

  • Arrhythmia – abnormal heart rhythm
  • Cardiac arrest – is a sudden loss of heart function and strikes without warning
  • Congenital heart defects – can be diagnoses in children at birth
  • Cholesterol – can put you at risk for heart disease or stroke
  • Diabetes –  a condition that causes blood sugar to rise to dangerous levels, increasing your risk for stroke or heart attack

Heart attack is damage to an area of heart muscle that is deprived of oxygen, usually due to blockage of a diseased coronary artery.

Heart failure is when the heart can’t keep up with its workload. If the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood, it cannot meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.

Untreated high blood pressure damages and scars your arteries, which can have deadly consequences.

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel either bursts or is blocked. It’s the third leading cause of death, yet many risk factors are preventable.

What are the warning signs of Heart Attack?

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number.

What are warning signs of Stroke?

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

What are the warning signs of Heart Failure?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Swollen feet, ankles, leg, abdomen or weight gain
  • Tiredness & fatigue
  • Lack of appetite, nausea
  • Confusion, impaired thinking
  • Increased heart rate

If you have more than one of these symptoms, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any heart problems, report them to a healthcare professional and ask for an evaluation of your heart. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it’s important for you to keep track of symptoms and report any sudden changes to your healthcare team.

Shortness of breath (aka dyspnea) …breathlessness during activity (most commonly), at rest, or while sleeping, which may come on suddenly and wake you up.

Persistent coughing or wheezing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.

Buildup of excess fluid in body tissues (edema) includes swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen or weight gain.

Tiredness & fatigue all the time and difficulty with everyday activities, such as shopping, climbing stairs, carrying groceries or walking. The heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the needs of body tissues. The body diverts blood away from less vital organs, particularly muscles in the limbs, and sends it to the heart and brain.

Lack of appetite, nausea …a feeling of being full or sick to your stomach. The digestive system receives less blood, causing problems with digestion.

Confusion, impaired thinking …memory loss and feelings of disorientation. A caregiver or relative may notice this first. Changing levels of certain substances in the blood, such as sodium, can cause confusion.

Increased heart rate …heart palpitations, which feel like your heart is racing or throbbing. To “make up for” the loss in pumping capacity, the heart beats faster.

What are the warning signs of Cardiac Arrest?

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness
  • No normal breathing

Reduce Your Risk with “The Simple 7”

1)Get active

2)Control cholesterol

3)Eat better

4)Manage blood pressure

5)Maintain healthy weight

6)Reduce blood sugar

7)Quit smoking


For more information about cardiovascular disease and how to reduce your risk:



For more information about Home Helpers:

Call:  (727) 942-2539


*Information presented throughout is according to the American Heart Association