February is American Heart Month

 
American Heart Month - blog.png
 

February is American Heart Month and a year ago, I probably wouldn't have thought twice about it. It's horrible of me I know, but I didn't personally have anyone in my immediate family affected by heart disease or heart problems. Until May 23, 2018, and we all really got the scare of our lives. I have told the story before about my mom having a heart attack that day, and you can find it here. Since then, I have continued to research heart disease and it's risk factors. I have continued to learn new things about how to decrease your risk, and keep your heart healthy!



Here's the problem in my head. I am a dietitian, I learned all this crap in school, read the books, did the case studies, blah, blah, blah. But two things!


One, you never think it will happen to you or that it will affect you personally.


Two, my mom has always been the most educated person about health and food. What's good for you, what's not. What's going to cause acne and bloating and what's good to get rid of it. Listen, believe, me, she told us and still tells us that anything going on with us is probably related to something we ate. When I was about 13 or 14 and no one even TALKED about skim milk, but my mom was slick. She started taking whole milk and mixing 3/4 whole milk with 1/4 skim milk. She did this for about 2 weeks and then did 1/2 whole, 1/2 skim, and so on until we were just drinking skim milk. 


BUT WE HAD NO IDEA!!! I have three brothers who would've freaked out if they thought mom was switching to skim milk on us.....I guess she figured we didn't need to know! She eventually got tired of putting the skim milk in a whole milk jug and one day we saw that skim milk jug in the fridge and we were like, "No way, not happening, nope". She basically laughed at us and told us that we had been drinking it for at least 6 weeks and we had no clue!

She was also the one that no matter where we went, she wanted a salad (with the dressing on the side) and steamed vegetables (no butter)! So, I was surprised when she had a heart attack.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. About 610,000 people die in the United States a year from heart disease.


The 3 MAJOR risk factors are:

  • high blood pressure

  • high cholesterol

  • smoking

At least half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors. My mom had slightly elevated cholesterol, but nothing to write home about. Her blood pressure was super, super low. Like we used to joke and ask if she had a pulse. But the smoking. She smoked for probably 20 years when she was younger. She quit smoking about 40 years ago, but I guess that 20 years of damage was done. Thank goodness she stopped when she did!


Several other risk factors that can contribute to heart disease are diabetes, overweight and obesity., poor diet, no physical activity, and excessive use of alcohol.


HOW TO KNOW

There are some major warning signs and they are sometimes different for men and women:

  • chest pains

  • discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw

  • shortness of breath

  • nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats


My mom had ALL of these EXCEPT chest pains.  The day I really knew something was wrong is when I called to check on her that Sunday morning, and she could hardly talk. She was literally gasping for air and I could tell over the telephone. I mentioned it to her and she of course never wants any of us to worry about her so she quickly said, "I'm fine, I'm fine, y'all don't worry about me". 


Well, the rest of the story is in my post and it boils down to the fact that, thank goodness we did worry about her and had someone check her out the next morning. She had a stint put in one of the blocked arteries, and is taking meds for the other. I have a very close family, and we are thankful for every day that we have together!

One of the things that you can do to help decrease your risk of heart disease is by following a healthy diet and getting physical exercise. 


If you would like to find out more, I have put together a little pamphlet for you that includes the basics of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and a 2 - Day sample menu!


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Happy American Heart Month,

Jennifer