The Heart of the Matter

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

This month, hearts will mean more than Valentine’s Day cards and heart-shaped candy boxes.

American Heart Month is here to remind American citizens that more than 99.998 percent of Americans will not have a heart attack this year, but that leaves at least 375,000 people who probably will. That is more than 30,000 every month.

The total number who will also suffer some other form of cardiovascular disease or stroke this year will probably double that number. The American Heart Association says that is too many. Everybody agrees.

American Heart Month, first proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson back in 1963, was aimed at encouraging people to focus on their heart health. At that time, more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease.

Go for Low Risk
People who will not have a heart attack this year may well have themselves to thank, according to scientists. Those are the people who do not smoking, drink little or no alcohol, keep a healthy weight, stay physically active and eat right. It’s called the “low risk profile.” Missing out on even one factor dramatically raises the risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Genetics, accidents and illness can also cause heart disease. Those factors are harder to control, but not always impossible. It is now known, for example, that a family history of heart attacks does not guarantee that any other family member will have one. It simply calls for more caution to stay in that low risk group.

“Health behaviors can overcome a lot of our genetics,” Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., cardiologist, chairman, and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine said. “Published research, [reported recently at an American Heart Association Scientific conference] shows people do have control over their heart health. The younger they are when they begin making healthy choices, the more likely they will be to earn that ‘low-risk profile’ for heart disease.”

According to the American Heart Association, the good news is that even modest changes in diet and lifestyle can improve heart health and lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke by as much as 80 percent.
Lagging Research

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Chautauqua County averages between 600 and 700 heart-related deaths in men over 35 every year. For Chautauqua County women in the same age group, the figures vary more widely, ranging between 450 and 1,250 per year.

Heart disease symptoms and warning signs, however, are not always the same for men and women, and gender specific research for women has historically lagged behind, which at least in part explains the wide gap in outcomes for women.

Seeing Red
Though National Wear Red Day® – Go Red For Women, was Friday, February 2, the spirit of the event extends all the way through February, National Heart Month – to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and to save lives. The Heart Association says that living healthy comes down to simply making healthy choices.

According to the national Go Red for Women website, “Cardiovascular disease in the U.S. kills approximately one woman every 80 seconds. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiac events may be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. Go Red For Women advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health.”

“Heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined,” said Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a cardiologist at NY Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center in New York City. “But since 80 percent of heart disease is preventable, both women and men can take control of their risk factors and lower them dramatically.”

Everybody: Know Your Numbers
Go Red’s advice to women applies to men as well. “Make the time to ‘Know Your Numbers.’ It is life-saving knowledge.  Five numbers that everyone should know to take control of heart health are: Total Cholesterol, HDL (good) Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and Body Mass Index (BMI). Knowing these numbers can help people and their healthcare providers determine their risk for developing cardiovascular diseases.”

The Harder Cases
Unfortunately, the most difficult issues in heart disease are the rare ones beyond anyone’s control – accidental injury and unexpected illnesses.

A rare condition known as viral myocarditis, for example, has recently made headline news in Jamestown in the case of a young local sportswriter named Cody Crandall. Cody, now 23, contributed a regular, popular sports column to the Jamestown Gazette in his college years and during his internship in journalism. His current career as a professional sportswriter is well known to sports fans throughout the county.

Cody’s dad, John Crandall, asked the Gazette to extend his and his wife Lisa’s personal thanks to all in the community who have helped, prayed, and sent their well-wishes.

This sudden illness recently took Cody from athletic good health, in the space of only a week, to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester awaiting a heart transplant. Though always serious, this condition does resolve spontaneously on rare occasions, but appears to be more damaging in men than in women. The specific virus to blame is rarely known, so all protective measures against viral infections are advised. This may be especially important in considering whether to get an influenza vaccination before – and even during – the flu season.

Ready, Set, Start
Heart attacks appear to be preventable in a great majority of cases. The best news is that the key to prevention is in just about everybody’s hands. The Jamestown Gazette invites all of our readers to make National Heart Month their time to begin a healthy new lifestyle journey.