written by Dana Herron
Matters of the Heart
Does your Valentine make your heart skip a beat? This Valentine’s Day, we encourage you to learn whether that “skipping a beat” feeling is love or something else. February is American Heart Month, and the best gift you can give your sweetie could be learning more about ways to keep your hearts healthy.
If you’re wondering why we need a whole month to highlight heart health, consider this fact: in the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Most of us don’t think about the prevalence of heart disease unless we’re faced with it personally as a patient or as a caregiver, but odds are high that if you’re not already affected by heart disease, you will be. In fact, heart failure—just one of the conditions that falls under the umbrella of heart disease—is the primary reason for hospital admissions for Americans who are age 65 or older.
As we age, the risk of heart disease does increase. Men are more likely to develop heart disease than women; however, heart disease may affect women quite differently. After years of initiatives encouraging women to be screened for cancer annually, the American Heart Association launched its Go Red for Women program to educate women about the high rate of heart disease in America as well as its specific effects on women. Since women often experience symptoms that are different from the symptoms a man may experience, many women tend to ignore warning signs.
In the South, we should pay close attention to all warning signs and risk factors because the South has a higher rate of deaths from heart disease than other parts of the country.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease can include many different diagnoses that are related to the working of the heart and the vascular system. You’ve likely heard of the most common forms of heart disease, including congestive heart failure, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and congenital heart disease. For a description of different heart disease diagnoses and information about treatment for each type, WebMD can be a good starting point.
Risk and Prevention
So other than the risk factors related to being male or female and being 65 or older, are there other indicators for heart disease? Yes. Unfortunately, some of those factors are totally out of your control while others are indicators you can change. In addition to age and gender, your family history and ethnicity may also put you at greater risk of developing heart disease.
Knowing what risk factors are within your control—and confronting those risk factors head on—can definitely make a difference. Most people who have high blood pressure, high glucose levels, and high cholesterol levels should be aware that these factors can be early signs of heart disease. Seeing your doctor for regular lab screenings is recommended, especially for people with a family history of heart disease or who may have multiple risk factors.
Your life choices affect your overall health and can put you at risk for developing heart disease. Habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol use could lead to heart disease. Lack of exercise, being overweight, experiencing high stress levels, and depression are also lifestyle-related risk factors. Making changes to combat these risk factors might include starting a new exercise regimen, eating healthier meals, or starting a smoking cessation program.
If learning more about your propensity for heart disease is warranted, many hospitals and physicians now offer special screenings for heart disease. Often, anyone—even someone without any warning signs or symptoms—can undergo the screening process as a preventive measure.
What About a Heart Attack?
On the whole, you may have heard much more about signs of a heart attack and how to perform CPR or use defibrillators if they’re available than you’ve heard about other forms of heart disease. Even so, many of us aren’t fully aware of signs that should cause us concern. We don’t want to think the worst, and may deny our symptoms. Don’t discount any of the indications of a heart attack. The American Heart Association lists these signs:
- 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.
The left-sided pain in the chest and arm is what we traditionally think of as the beginning of a heart attack, but there are some other, less obvious signals to know about. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative was designed to raise awareness of both the significant rate of female deaths from heart disease as well as the more unusual heart attack symptoms women might experience—and may tend to ignore. Severe jaw pain has led women to see their dentists only to discover later that the pain was related to a heart attack. Consistent jaw pain, back and shoulder pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, and dizziness and sweating are all heart attack indicators that don’t immediately lead us to think about a heart attack. You should never ignore these warning signs.
Many CaraVita Home Care clients have heart disease, and we understand the crucial role family caregivers play in keeping their loved ones as healthy as possible. Especially when dealing with heart disease and accompanying recommendations for lifestyle changes to increase heart health, caregivers may end up taking on a coaching role in addition to a caregiving role. Changing eating habits, exercising regularly, taking the right medications at the right time, and quitting smoking may require much encouragement and assistance that the caregivers/coaches try to provide. The role can become stressful and overwhelming. Lifestyle changes are difficult, and it can be hard to attain the desired changes and to maintain a new lifestyle without supportive coaching and encouragement.
One of the most important roles you can provide for a loved one with heart disease is coordinating both communication with physicians and taking medications. Heart disease may be one of several illnesses a patient has, and multiple doctors may be overseeing different conditions. When multiple physicians and medications are involved, good communication is crucial to make sure each physician understands the full scope of the patient’s medical profile and is aware of all medications the patient takes.
This coordinated care benefits the patient, but, again, can be an overwhelming process for a caregiver. When families need support, CaraVita Home Care can help. Our caregivers can provide a much-needed break for family caregivers and can support efforts to coordinate appropriate care for your loved one.
And don’t forget to take a break to celebrate your loved ones. Valentine’s Day can remind us how special that bond of love can be. So share some chocolates with your sweetie—get the dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao to make it heart healthy—and cherish one another. We do encourage you to learn more about heart disease as well. The American Heart Association’s Web site has information to help those living with heart disease and those taking care of someone with heart disease. If CaraVita Home Care can be a resource or support, let us know. We are always honored to help you care for your special Valentine.