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5 Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Disease

Flickr, Larkyn

Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean you have to take down all of your heart decorations yet. February is also American Heart Month, so keep gluing glitter to pink construction paper while you educate yourself on all the ways to make sure your future is heart-disease-free.

To get you started, we’ve answered five big questions about heart health below.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

Arteries are constantly pumping oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Heart attacks occur when any of these arteries become blocked, such that the blood is unable to pass. This most commonly occurs when cholesterol builds up and narrows the passageway in your arteries. In less common instances, heart attacks can occur when an artery suffers a tear or when a blood clot travels from another part of your body to your heart. The use of certain illicit drugs can also cause a sudden spasm of the arteries, which blocks the blood flow to the heart.

Are Women Protected From Heart Disease?

A good deal of research into the links between estrogen and heart attacks has left many women feeling that their gender might protect them from the threat. Unfortunately, being a woman isn’t enough to prevent a heart attack. After menopause and estrogen decreases, a woman’s risk factors for heart disease actually increase.

However, this does not mean that young women are off the hook. Women with a family history of the disease, who are smokers, who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or who suffer from depression have increased risks. Women should take care to recognize that the physical warning signs of a heart attack may be different than those for men, and they should immediately seek medical assistance if they feel they may be experiencing a heart attack.

Is Heart Disease Hereditary?

The simple answer is that it can be, but not always. There are many factors that can increase your risk for heart disease that may be passed down to you from your parents, including elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol. If an immediate family member has suffered a heart attack before the age of 60, your risk increases. However, even if everyone in your family is healthy, you are not necessarily in the clear. Lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can contribute greatly to your degree of risk for heart disease.

What Can I Do to Lower My Risk for Heart Disease?

While heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women each year, it can be prevented. Making healthy choices greatly reduces an individual’s risk for a heart attack. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart; however, even if you are currently a smoker, within just a year of quitting you will have dramatically lowered your risks.

Additionally, choosing a healthy diet and exercising for 30 minutes a day can do more than just make your pants fit better, it can also strengthen your heart. Finally, it’s important to have regular checkups to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol so that you can stay on track and keep your heart happy.

How Do I Know if I’m Having a Heart Attack?

Identifying a heart attack quickly is the key to limiting the damage it can cause. When we think of heart attacks, we usually envision someone clutching their chest in sudden pain. This can be a symptom, but it’s not the only one and some people, especially women, may not experience any chest pain at all. Other warning signs can include tension in the upper body, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea.

Heart attacks can happen suddenly, but they may also develop slowly, with more and more symptoms building up. If you think you might be having a heart attack you should contact emergency personnel immediately. Do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital or wait it out—acting fast can save your life.

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