February is American Heart Month. SIU Medicine physicians care for a wide range of heart issues, and know that basic knowledge of heart concerns can help prevent certain symptoms from beginning. Check out these five important things to know about heart health.

1. Heart disease is the leading killer

Did you know that 1 in 4 annual deaths in America is caused by heart disease? Heart disease includes conditions like coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart attack and stroke. Both men and women can be affected.

Risk factors for heart disease that you can control include smoking, being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle without exercise, and eating a lot of processed foods.

2. Eat for your (heart) health

Heart healthy foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, lean animal proteins and healthy fats found in fish and olive oil. Focus on eating more of these foods and avoid processed and refined foods, including soda and sugar, which have been linked with heart disease.

3. Sleep can affect your heart health

It is no longer considered “impressive” to get less than six hours of sleep at night or pull all-nighters. In fact, research shows that chronic sleep deprivation is incredibly harmful to human health and can even impair your mood and cognitive performance.

Insufficient quality and quantity of sleep has also been shown to increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s thought that sleep deprivation disrupts physiological processes that normally regulate things like blood pressure and glucose metabolism. Not getting enough sleep is also believed to increase systemic inflammation, which is known to damage heart tissue and blood vessels.

Lastly, sleep deprivation is also linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease.

4. Educate yourself: learn the signs of heart attack and stroke

When someone suffers a heart attack or stroke, the earlier the person receives medical care, the better the outcome. This is why everyone—from kids to grandparents—should know the early warning signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke.

Symptoms of a heart attack include a sense of impending doom, chest pain or pressure, arm pain, indigestion, a cold sweat, shortness of breath and sudden fatigue.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply is interrupted or cut off in the brain. To remember the signs and symptoms of stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST:

  • Balance: a person may start to stumble or lose their balance or feel dizzy
  • Eyes: a person may complain about blurry vision; they may also have headaches
  • Face: one side of a person's face becomes weak and droopy
  • Arms: a person notices weakness or altered sensations in an arm or leg
  • Speech: a person may start to seem confused, or have trouble speaking
  • Time: don’t hesitate, even if you’re not sure if it’s an actual stroke. Call 911 right away!

5. Establish a relationship with a provider

If you have a personal or family history of heart problems, or if you have any known risk factors for heart disease (like obesity, diabetes or smoking), it’s important to talk to a heart doctor. Our cardiology team uses best practice techniques to help you manage symptoms and maximize your quality of life.

Is your heart in good hands? The SIU Medicine team can work with you and your loved ones to find a heart-healthy plan that works for your lifestyle and needs. Contact us today at 217-545-8000 to schedule an initial consultation and connect with an experienced cardiologist near you.

Topics: Cardiology, American Heart Month, Heart Health