The month of February is American Heart month, a time when all people can focus on assessing their heart health and improving their lifestyle choices to help reduce their risk of developing heart disease. Sudden death due to heart attack or stoke are two of the most common causes of death in the United States as of 2022 according to the American Heart Association. In fact, heart disease is currently the number one cause of death in the US, while strokes ranks as the fifth leading cause of death in the country. Strokes and heart attacks are closely related due to their connection with your blood pressure and overall heart health. In this post we’ll be discussing the warning signs of heart disease, what to look for to spot the signs of an impending heart attack or stroke early, and some preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk factors for heart disease.
Heart attacks can occur suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere. However, most of them actually start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. This pain may last more than a few minutes or it may go away and return sporadically throughout the day. The pain can feel like squeezing, fullness, sharp pains, or an uncomfortable pressure like having a weight on your chest. These symptoms can occur with or without strenuous physical activity and tend to occur alongside other telltale symptoms. Discomfort or pain in other areas of the upper body such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach can all be signs of a heart attack.
In addition to the previously mentioned warning signs such as chest pain and discomfort in the upper body, there are many less obvious indicators of an impending heart attack or stroke. Other symptoms of a potential heart attack can include lightheadedness, nausea, cold sweats, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Signs of a heart attack are very identical between men and women, with many of the same symptoms appearing between both. However, there are certain symptoms that more commonly appear in women such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. If you or someone you know begin experiencing these symptoms it is important you seek medical attention immediately.
Signs of a potential stroke can appear as sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body. Other common signs of a stroke include sudden confusion, trouble speaking, difficulty understanding speech, sudden lose of vision, trouble walking, loss of balance, and severe headache. When it comes to dealing with strokes, recognizing and taking action quickly can help save lives and reduce their lasting effects. The treatments for strokes that work best are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within 3 hours of the first symptoms. Follow the F.A.S.T. method to test if someone is having a stroke:
F-Face: Ask them to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A-Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S-Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase (Ex: Johnny went to the park for a walk). Is the speech slurred or strange?
T-Time: If you see any of these signs, call an ambulance right away.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. The first step in reducing your heart attack and stroke symptoms is knowing your family health history and identifying any genetic risk factors with your doctors. Eating a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, fish, and lean meats can reduce your blood pressure and improve the health of your circulatory system and heart. Along with eating healthy, increasing your physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight will also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Other great strategies to improving your heart and circulatory health, include avoiding alcohol and tobacco products and managing existing conditions like diabetes or hypertension. Following these lifestyle tips can greatly improve your overall health and reduce your chances for stroke or heart attack.