February is American Heart Month, per a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden on Jan. 31.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the country. One in every four deaths, or about 659,000 Americans per year, die from heart disease.
In Union County, heart disease is an especially pressing health concern; the prevalence of heart disease in the county is 7.5%, higher than the national average of 6.7%, said Lisa Antoon, marketing director for Medical Center of South Arkansas.
“The main heart-related issues observed during patient evaluation is coronary artery disease, including artery blockage within the heart,” she said.
The term “heart disease” encompasses a wide breadth of ailments related to cardiac function, including blood vessel disease, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, such as arrhythmias, congenital heart defects, which a person would be born with, and infections, among others.
Antoon said several physicians at MCSA specialize in heart health, including Dr. Daniel Schrader, Dr. Lee Davis, Dr. Harvindor Dod and Dr. Donald Voelker.
“Taking good care of your heart can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease that leads to a heart attack, stroke or other serious complications,” she said. “Heart care at Medical Center of South Arkansas focuses on the functions and disorders of the heart and its connected circulatory system.”
Some people are at higher risk for heart disease than others, in particular people who suffer from diabetes, people who are overweight, have poor diets or don’t exercise and people who drink excessively.
According to the American Heart Association, COVID-19 can also affect heart health.
“The way that the virus gets into the cells of the body is by binding to this receptor called ACE-2 … That enzyme, that protein, is located on cells in the lungs, so when we breathe it in, it gets into the lungs. But that same enzyme is located in the heart,” said Dr. Mitch Eikland, president of the American Heart Association. “The really scary thing is that enzyme is located on the linings of the blood vessels that go throughout the body… So it’s not just a lung disease, it’s just that it gets into the body through the lungs, causes lung problems. Some people, the lung problems don’t even seem to be the major problem; its when it gets into the blood vessels that it causes major trouble.”
The first step in preventing serious heart conditions, such as a heart attack or heart failure, is choosing healthy habits, according to the CDC. That includes everything from eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight to exercising regularly and refraining from smoking.
Those with diabetes or high cholesterol or blood pressure should manage their conditions carefully, the CDC says, including by working with their health care provider to keep the conditions under control.
Locally, the MCSA Healthy Woman Board meets monthly to discuss ways to promote healthy living in the community. In the past, the group has organized an annual luncheon to promote heart health; raised funds for other MCSA initiatives; and presented public education on heart health.
Antoon said it’s important that if one is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack — which can include chest pain or discomfort, feeling weak or light-headed, pain in the jaw, neck or back, discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders and shortness of breath — they should call 911 or visit the emergency room nearest to them.
For more information about heart-related services at MCSA, visit themedcenter.net/cardiac-care. To learn more about heart disease and healthy living, visit cdc.gov/heartdisease.