Since 1924, the American Heart Association has highlighted February as American Heart Month. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to issue a proclamation declaring American Heart Month. February is both Heart Health Awareness Month and Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Month. Read on to find out more about heart disease, its impact, and ways you can help spread awareness!
Heart disease is a broad term for a wide range of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These may include arrhythmias (problems with the heart’s rhythm), coronary artery disease or other blood vessel problems, and congenital heart defects. Arrhythmias may include bradycardia, tachycardia, atrial or ventricular fibrillation, and heart block. Heart valve problems may also cause irregular rhythms and inefficient pumping of blood. Blockage of the coronary arteries around the heart or other arteries within the body can lead to chest pain and heart attacks. When these conditions are taken all together, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Each year, 1 in 4 deaths can be attributed to heart disease, so it is a real issue.
Children can be impacted by heart disease, too. Congenital heart defects (CHD), heart problems present at birth, are the most common birth defect in infants. There are ~35 types of congenital heart defects. Approximately 40,000 babies are born each year in the United States with a CHD. That equates to 1 out of about every 100 babies. Thankfully, most CHDs are treatable with surgery, medication, catheterization, or devices such as pacemakers or artificial valves.
Women and Heart Disease
In recent years, more emphasis has been put on educating women about their risk of heart disease. In fact, since 1984, more women have died each year from heart disease than men. You may be familiar with the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign that launched in 2003. Its emphasis has been to educate women about the risks of heart disease, how symptoms may differ from those in men, and ways women can prevent and minimize the risk of heart disease.
Our Family’s Heart Stories
Heart health awareness hits close to home for my family. My son, Jacob, was born at 25 weeks gestation. When a baby is in utero, the mother’s lungs oxygenate his blood. There is an open duct that allows the baby’s blood to bypass his lungs. That opening normally closes within a few days of birth. When babies are born as early as Jacob, often that duct doesn’t close. It is called a patent ductus arteriosis, or PDA, which can cause problems with breathing, gaining weight, and pulmonary hypertension.
Jacob was struggling, and an echocardiogram confirmed what his doctors thought – he had a PDA. Jacob’s PDA was treated with three courses of medication (Indomethacin) in an attempt to get it to close. We had an emotional time as the PDA would close, re-open, be treated again and close, and then open once more. When medication fails to close a PDA, catheterization or surgery is the next option.
Jacob underwent PDA ligation (closure) surgery when he was one month and two days old, weighing just about two pounds. It is not open heart surgery in the classic sense, because the surgeon approaches the heart from the back by separating the baby’s pliable ribs. A small metal clip is placed to close the hole up. For size perspective, the clip is about half the size of a closed staple. We noticed an improvement in Jacob’s overall health very soon after his PDA ligation; it was a turning point for his development and growth.
I had my own cardiac issue a little over a year after we brought Jacob home from the NICU. I was experiencing some shortness of breath and chest pains and had been to the doctor twice, with EKGs and stress tests performed. My testing was all fairly normal, and I was encouraged to decrease my stress, use antacids for any reflux, and try ibuprofen for the chest pains.
About six weeks from the initial visit, my chest pains worsened to the point that I went to the Emergency Department to get checked out. I was admitted (over Easter, unfortunately) for a battery of tests. The conclusion (basically by ruling everything else out) was that I had viral myocarditis, a viral infection that was affecting my heart muscle and causing the chest pain. After an extended course of two anti-inflammatory medications, my chest pains had resolved, and I haven’t had a problem since.
All Gloom and Doom?
The good news is that it’s not all gloom and doom with heart disease! Medical diagnostic tests and a wide range of procedures and therapies have really made an impact on the management of heart disease. Increased awareness about heart disease can also have a significant impact. So what can you do to get involved?
- “Go Red” for Women – Tomorrow (February 3, 2017) is National Wear Red Day to promote awareness for heart disease in women.
- Take a CPR class – You will be prepared to help in the event of someone having a cardiac emergency.
- Use more spices and less salt – This can help keep your blood pressure down.
- Get active! – Exercise has been shown to keep the heart healthy.
- Quit smoking – There is a link between cardiac disease and smoking, so get help to quit if you’re a smoker.
- Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly – “Know your numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and BMI). All of these things can relate to heart disease, and knowing your numbers will help you know how to change your lifestyle.
- Make a post about awareness on social media – Even with a lot more information available, many people don’t realize that heart disease is the #1 killer in both men and women.
- Set a good example for your kids – If your children see you eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, they are more likely to follow suit.
I encourage you all to “Go Red” and get involved in heart health awareness in your own life and the lives of your loved ones!