The color for February is red, symbolizing the Chinese lunar new year, Valentine’s Day, and Heart Health Month. Red is also the color of luck, valentines and the heart. So February is a perfect time to increase awareness about coronary artery (heart) disease.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both women and men in America. Every year almost one million Americans have heart attacks. About 600,000 Americans die from heart disease annually, and more Southerners die of the disease compared to those who live in Western states.
Without blood and breath, there is no life. The heart needs the blood supply for nutrients and to pump oxygen throughout the body. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries feeding the heart become clogged. This condition causes stroke, heart failure and heart attacks. Risk for heart disease increases as we age.
Know your risk for heart disease:
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you have diabetes?
- Did your mother or father die of a heart attack before age 50?
- Is your cholesterol high?
- Are you sedentary?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are at increased risk of heart disease or having a stroke or heart attack. Talk to your doctor about reducing your risk.
Stop smoking. Cigarette smoke contains tar and other materials that cause stickiness within blood vessels feeding the heart. Imagine a sink pipe filled with grit, cutting off the flow of water.
Oftentimes high blood pressure doesn’t have symptoms, yet it causes life-threatening damage. By losing as little as 10 percent of body weight, you can reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
It’s very important not to ignore diabetes if diagnosed, for it can cause blindness and kidney failure in addition to increasing risk of heart attacks.
I know we all are tired of hearing that we should eat healthy foods and exercise. However, it really does work. Have your cholesterol checked annually — if female over the age of 45 and if male, over the age 35. Incorporating more grains in your diet can help to lower your cholesterol. Also, you should move more.
The Million Hearts initiative is a national charge to prevent a million deaths from heart attack and stroke in the next five years. It’s as easy as ABCs — aspirin therapy when appropriate, blood pressure control, cholesterol control, and smoking cessation.
Honor the contributions of African-American physicians this Black History Month by knowing and reducing your risk for coronary artery disease. Leaders in the field of heart health were the first African-American cardiologist, Dr. Daniel Hale; the hematologist and developer of modern blood banking techniques, Dr. Charles Drew; and the first African-American woman to perform heart surgery, Dr. Myra Logan.
Let’s fight heart disease to create a healthier tomorrow!
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, she is a community health advocate as well as a medical consultant and commentator for media outlets such as The Weather Channel, Atlanta Fox 5 News, and CNN.com. Tell her what you think on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.