What is heart disease and what can I do to be heart healthy?

Did you know that February is American Heart Month? According to the CDC, heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., and causes approximately 1 in 4 deaths.

Heart disease can refer to many different kinds of heart issues, but in the United States, coronary heart disease is the most common type. It is sometimes referred to as CAD. The term heart disease can also include heart rhythm conditions, congenital heart defects, heart valve issues, infections in the heart, fatty plaque buildup in arteries, and other heart related problems.


Some heart disease conditions may have little to no symptoms whereas others may have very noticeable symptoms. There may also be differences among men and women. Men with coronary heart disease are more likely to experience chest pain. Women may experience some chest discomfort but are more likely to have other symptoms as well such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, or nausea. Other symptoms of heart disease may include: pain in other areas such as in the arm, neck, jaw or back, feelings of your heart fluttering or racing in your chest, dizziness, fainting, or swelling in legs, hands, ankles, or feet.

Risk Factors

Heart disease can have many risk factors. Age is one of these factors. As we grow older, our risk of damaged arteries and heart muscle problems increase. Men generally have a higher risk of heart disease than women, but a woman’s risk does increase after menopause. Family history is another major factor that plays a role in having a higher risk. People who have higher than normal or uncontrolled blood pressures or have high levels of cholesterol also have an increased risk. Smoking, poor diet, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and stress can also lead to heart disease.


There are many complications that could possibly occur as a result of heart disease. Heart failure is one of the most common complications. Other complications may include: stroke, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, or sudden cardiac arrest.


So, what can we do to try to help prevent heart disease? Although there are many things we cannot control such as family history, there are several things we can control including:

– Not smoking

– Controlling other health issues such as hypertension, high levels of cholesterol, and diabetes

– Trying to manage and reduce stress

– Maintaining a healthy weight

– Getting exercise on most days for at least 30 minutes

– Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet

Implementing these lifestyle choices may help prevent heart disease and lead you on a path to a healthier heart!

If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. For any urgent medical concerns, call 911.

Janessa Williamson, RN, is the Health Educator and WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator at Fayette County Public Health. Fayette County Public Health offers services and programs that focus on preventing controllable risk factors of heart disease, including cholesterol checks and health education / healthy lifestyle programs. More information can be found at faycohd.org or by calling 740-335-5910.


By Janessa Williamson, RN

Fayette County Public Health