Learn your heart attack and stroke risks, and how to combat them

New initiative aims to teach Americans to be their own heart health advocates

Special to the Herald-LeaderDecember 3, 2012 

Chris McIntyre, CB Health

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The numbers are staggering. Americans suffer more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes each year, and every day 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States, which means heart disease causes one of every three deaths in the country. Heart disease and stroke also are among the leading causes of disability in our country — keeping more than 3 million people from enjoying a full quality of life.

To reduce these dismal numbers, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as other federal, state and local government agencies launched Million Hearts, an initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks by 2017.

A critical part of the Million Hearts initiative is to raise awareness of the broad scope of these conditions. We are all at risk. People of all ages, genders and races can have a heart attack or stroke. However, certain groups — African Americans, people between the ages of 40 and 60, and women — are at higher risk. But many of the people who are at high risk don't know it.

Million Hearts also encourages each of us to become our own heart and brain health advocate. Here are some important steps you can take so that you can be counted among those taking action to prevent heart attacks and strokes:

■ Understand your risks. High blood pressure, smoking, obesity and diabetes are a few of the risk factors for heart attacks. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (when the heart beats out of rhythm), high cholesterol, diabetes, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), circulation problems, tobacco use, smoking, alcohol use, physical inactivity and obesity are the major risk factors for stroke.

■ Get up and get active by exercising for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

■ Know your ABCS: Appropriate Aspirin Therapy, Blood Pressure Control, Cholesterol Management and Smoking Cessation.

■ Stay strong by eating a heart-healthy diet that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol.

■ Take control of your heart health by following your doctor's instructions for medications and treatment.

Some risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, such as age and family history, are out of our control, but most risk factors can be lowered or eliminated altogether with lifestyle changes. If you would like to make changes to better your heart and brain health, go to MillionHearts.hhs.gov.

Christine McIntyre, is executive director of cardiac services at Central Baptist Hospital.

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