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Heart Disease

Sunday, January 31, 2016


February is Heart Month.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  Approximately 610,000 Americans die of heart disease each year.  That is one of every four deaths in the U.S.  Understanding the basics of heart disease, common symptoms, and risk factors is the first step to being heart healthy.  

Heart disease refers to several types of conditions.  The most common condition is coronary heart disease (CHD) which can cause a heart attack and kills more than 370,000 annually. Anyone can develop heart disease.  According to the CDC, it occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries. When this happens, your arteries narrow over time, reducing blood flow to the heart.  This may eventually lead to a heart attack.  

There are two categories of risk factors for heart disease.  The first category is beyond a person’s control.  These include demographic and genetic characteristics such as growing older, being male, having a parent or parents with heart disease, or your ethnicity.  The latest statistics from the CDC indicate that heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites.  The second category is under a person’s control.  This category involves several physiological factors or lifestyle choices, many of which can be controlled by the person or through medication.  The American Heart Association and CDC both agree that the following factors put a person at higher risk for heart disease:

  1. High blood pressure

  2. High cholesterol

  3. Smoking

  4. Diabetes

  5. Overweight and obesity

  6. Poor diet

  7. Physical inactivity

  8. Excessive alcohol use

High blood pressure

High cholesterol



Overweight and obesity

Poor diet

Physical inactivity

Excessive alcohol use

It is also important to know the warning signs of a heart attack so you or someone with you can call for help right away.  Not everyone will experience every symptom.  Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, many start slowly with mild pain or discomfort over the course of several days.  In general, someone having a heart attack may experience several of the following symptoms:

  1. Chest pain or discomfort that does not go away after a few minutes.

  2. Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.

  3. Weakness, light-headedness, nausea, or cold sweat

  4. Shortness of breath

Chest pain or discomfort that does not go away after a few minutes.

Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.

Weakness, light-headedness, nausea, or cold sweat

Shortness of breath

If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.  If when you look at the risk factors, you do not know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, weight) or you do know that you are at risk; make an appointment to see your doctor.  You can also visit the American Heart Association’s My Life Check site at   This health assessment and improvement tool encourages you to take actions and form habits to improve your heart health. After you complete an easy assessment, you will receive a Heart Health Score with recommendations to make improvements, and track your progress.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.  

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