If you've passed our Voorhees office in the evening recently, you may have noticed a slight change in decoration. All month, there have been red lights illuminating the sides of the building. While the color red in February is a symbol of Valentine's Day, it also represents American Heart Month. This year marks the 57th nationally recognized Heart Month, since it was officially proclaimed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. At Bowman, we take education on health seriously, and we want our community to know the facts on heart health as well!
Cardiovascular disease can mean a range of issues with your heart and/or your body's system of blood vessels and arteries. There is not a singular cause for all types of heart disease. The complicated matter of heart health requires education on the subject. The importance of heart health cannot be stressed enough; after all, heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, cases have been on the rise in recent years. In 2019, there was a reported 26.6% increase of cases of cardiovascular disease since 2010. It can affect anyone regardless of physical differences. There are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of many heart diseases, as well as learn responsive actions that can save someone's life in the event of a serious heart complication.
Types of Common Heart Disease
Some types of heart disease are, unfortunately, unpreventable. Congenital heart diseases (CHDs) are types of abnormal formations of the heart that people are born with (click here for more reading). There are many charities such as the Children's Heart Foundation that research to help prevent and treat CHD so that newborns can have a better chance of surviving and improved quality of life. Some of the most common types of CHD include:
- Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) - A hole in that separates the two top chambers of the heart.
- Coarctation of the Aorta (CoA) - A narrowing of the majority artery (the aorta) that carries blood to the body.
- Complete Atrioventricular Canal Defect (CAVC) - A hole in the center of the heart which allows blood to mix between the four main chambers of the heart.
Many types of heart disease develop over time due to external factors, such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle. One of the most preventable types of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD affects the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis) reduces blood flow, which can cause heart attacks and/or strokes. You can also develop a disease of the heart muscle, which is known as cardiomyopathy. These usually prevent or hinder blood flow out of the heart to the rest of the body.
One of the most notable recent examples of serious heart complications is Damar Hamlin, a Safety position player for the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League. A seemingly routine tackle caused an arrhythmia, which is an irregular or offset heartbeat. This ultimately led to his heart attack on-field, which shocked the nation in early January. Rapid or extreme changes in heartbeat rhythm in less severe cases can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or even fainting. It doesn't take an NFL tackle to cause arrythmia; you can experience this from previous heart tissue damage, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, high blood pressure, stress, genetic changes, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, too much caffeine intake, and/or many of the high-risk factors associated with general heart health and CAD. Read more on Damar Hamlin's partnership with the American Heart Association here.
Preventing & Treating Heart Disease
The most obvious action you can take if you feel severe symptoms of any heart disease is to call 911 and seek medical attention immediately. Response time for heart related injury is a critical factor in whether or not it can be treated. If enough time passes where blood cannot flow properly throughout the body, you will experience failure in multiple organs other than just the heart.
If you are near someone who is experiencing heart complications, the duty to respond to the situation may fall on you if the person is incapacitated. Knowing CPR can help restore and/or stabilize breathing until further emergency response arrives. The American Red Cross offers educational tools and certifications on their website here.
Living a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to prevent heart disease. Most of the major organizations on heart health also advocate for reducing general levels of stress. The American Heart Association promotes the following message for the preventable heart diseases such as CAD:
"In most cases, heart disease is preventable when people adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and getting regular checkups."
This blog is meant to spread awareness and information about heart disease and emergency response. However, to understand heart disease in depth, assess your own heart health & evaluate your risk factors, speak with your physician/doctor. Medical advice from a licensed professional should always be your primary trusted source of information on your health.
Sources, Further Reading & Giving Opportunities
- American Heart Association - Common Types of Heart Defects
- American Heart Association - Damar Hamlin's #3forHeart CPR Challenge & Donation Page
- American Heart Association - Home Page
- American Heart Association - U.S. Commemorates 57th Consecutive American Heart Month in February
- American Red Cross - CPR Training
- Center for Disease Control - American Heart Month Toolkits 2023
- Children's Heart Foundation - Home Page
- Mayo Clinic - Heart Disease