Krystyl Farmer Library Columns

February is American Heart Month by Krystyl Farmer

by Krystyl FarmerSomething wakes you from your sound sleep. It’s not a loud noise or sudden chill in the air. Your house hasn’t been tossed around by a tornado like Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s in the Wizard of Oz. It is taking entirely too much effort to fill your lungs with air and your chest feels like your spouse is sitting right on top of it, only they’ve gained an extra 300 pounds. You think it is just indigestion so you pop an antacid tablet. While you are wondering what in the Sam Hill is going on, a tingling sensation begins in your left arm and you feel such tremendous jaw pain that begins to travel up the side of your head to your ear. This is not a drill, my friend; you are having a heart attack. Many Americans believe heart attacks occur with flamboyance and drama like they see in the movies, but that is not always the case. Heart attacks can be a slight discomfort in the chest
and a tingling sensation in the left arm or pressure in the abdominals and even jaw pain.

Heart Disease is the #1 killer of American citizens, but 80% of heart disease and stroke events are
preventable. We have all heard these statistics from somewhere, but what is heart disease anyways? Heart Disease or Cardiovascular Disease is a general term used to reference heart conditions that include damaged
vessels ( arteries, veins, capillaries, venules), blood clots, or structural issues. Heart Disease claims more lives than all types of cancer combined according to The Heart Foundation. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease which is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries and causes restricted blood flow to the heart. Many Americans suffering from coronary artery disease don’t know they have it until they have a heart attack. Routine blood tests, blood pressure monitoring, and yearly check ups are the key to detecting this illness prior to becoming prey to the deadly “widow maker.”

Due to this very important issue, President Barack Obama made a proclamation on January 30, 2015 stating that February will be recognized as American Heart Month. During this month. he calls upon the US population to recommit to improving heart health and invites all citizens to participate in National Wear Red day on February 5, 2016. The purpose of this day is to create a visual reminder to get yearly checkups and talk to your doctor about creating a heart health plan. The American Heart Association sponsors a movement called Go Red For Women. This campaign “inspires women to make healthy lifestyle changes… and shape policies to save lives,” according to the AHA website where you can also donate to the cause.

Three key risk factors that increase your chance of developing heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking; about half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors.

High blood pressure affects 67 million people in the US. The people affected are 4 times more likely to suffer a stroke and die compared to those without high blood pressure. When a nurse measures your “blood pressure” they are really measuring how much force your blood is putting on your artery walls. It is similar to measuring the air pressure in the tires of your car; too much or too little pressure affects the performance of your vehicle. The same is true of our bodies. High blood pressure can harden arteries, which decreases blood flow, and burst or block arteries. It is a natural reaction for blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day but it becomes an issue when it consistently stays at rates higher than 120/80. This can be caused by: smoking, high sodium diet, lack of physical activity, being overweight, stress, and even genetics. Doctors prescribe medicines
to lower blood pressure, but healthy eating and healthy lifestyle changes are also beneficial to lowering one’s blood pressure.

Cholesterol, cholesterol, cholesterol……what is the big deal with cholesterol anyways? Cholesterol is a waxlike substance that is naturally produced by our liver and although our bodies usually give us only what we need, through our diet habits we often get much more. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL the bad kind, and HDL the good kind. When a doctor says you have high cholesterol they are actually telling you that there is too much of the bad kind floating around in your bloodstream. This is detrimental to your health because this cholesterol can build up deposits on the walls of arteries and restrict the flow of blood. The average carotid artery is 4.37.7 millimeters in diameter (about half the diameter of a dime) it would not take much to occlude
the vessel. Healthy diet and consistent exercise can help lower cholesterol levels naturally, but doctors can also prescribe medication.

Smokers are at risk for developing heart disease because nicotine raises blood pressure and as we learned, high blood pressure affects the body in a couple different ways but all can be catastrophic to one’s heart and overall health. Smoking tobacco damages the lining of your arteries and causes your blood to become sticky and oxygen poor so, even though your heart is doing it’s job, your organs aren’t reaping the full harvest, so to speak.

Many other risk factors contribute to developing heart disease and most of them can be avoided by making health conscious choices and learning about the symptoms and conditions themselves. Heart disease is not a death sentence, though it is a serious issue. Not all cases of heart disease are preventable due to environmental factors and genetics but following your doctor’s treatment plan and making adjustments to your diet and physical activity level can help overshadow this illness.

I was able to learn all of this information by using various resources available through the Heartland Library Cooperative. Through the library’s website you can access the online learning program called Universal Class. They offer many courses related to wellness, nutrition, and even stress management for no cost. The libraries of Highlands County provide all of these research resources at no cost to residents. To provide information and help raise awareness of this outstanding issue, the children’s area of the Sebring Public Library will have a special display of heart disease, stroke, anatomy, and nutrition books. Library staff will also be wearing read on February 5, 2016 to help remind everyone who sees us to be heart healthy, so come visit us and
wear red yourself!