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  • Writer's pictureMark Roberts

What the Heart Wants

February is "Heart Health Month." The heart has come to symbolize love and romance, celebrated every February 14th on Saint Valentine’s Day. The heart also signifies passion and vitality. Long before modern medical science, people knew the beating heart was vital to life. For this reason, the heart symbol is also associated with health and wellbeing. That's why having good heart health is vitally important.

Cardiovascular health is essential to human longevity and wellness. So it seems appropriate that each February, the month of valentines and heart-shaped candies, you should be aware of your heart health, including symptoms of a heart attack. Chest pain and shortness of breath may be the most common warning signs of a heart attack, but the symptoms can also mimic heartburn — or even a toothache. Still, others may feel nothing at all until the damage is done.

Pain caused by heart attacks actually runs on a spectrum, because the nerves that serve the heart are not nearly as sensitive as those in your fingers. What’s more, it’s possible to have a heart attack without being aware of it at all. Because the same bundle of nerves that runs through the heart also runs through other areas of your body, it can be easy to mistake the source of your discomfort.

Some people report a toothache or jaw pain before their heart attack. Acute conditions aside, general oral hygiene and preventing a toothache may be more important than you think. Bacterial infections of the gum or teeth can spread to the heart through the bloodstream and, when left alone, damage the valves. That is one reason enough to have a good dental plan in place and see your dentist at least annually for a check up.

Another telltale symptom is heartburn. Many heart attack survivors say they dismissed their initial symptom as something far less serious: indigestion. Heartburn is caused by indigestion of food. As stomach acid bubbles up into the esophagus, it can cause a burning pain in the chest, easily confused with heart attacks. Your primary care physician should be consulted especially if your indigestion is chronic, because they can perform stress tests and detect any cardiac issues.

Additionally, the first sign of heart attack may also show up in your shoulders; if you suspect it’s a heart attack, definitely seek help. Also sweating during exercise or during a hot day in the heat is normal, but breaking out in a cold sweat when you’re resting or feeling cool may be a sign of heart failure. One research study has suggested it’s triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, which ramps up during heart attacks.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a little over 800,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year, and about 20% of the time, it’s “silent” or without symptoms. Having a conversation with your doctor about your heart health risk is the first step in prevention. People who smoke, are older, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, live with diabetes, or have a family history of heart problems are more likely to suffer heart attacks.

You can take charge of your cardiovascular health. Here are some tips for making healthy lifestyle decisions that lower risk factors and prevent illness:

Eat Well

By choosing to eat healthy meals and snacks, you can improve the health of your heart and prevent disease.

Keep It Moving

Physical activity is vital to healthy hearts. People with sedentary lifestyles have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and death.

Manage Weight

Since excess weight can be a strain on the heart and blood vessels, aiming for a healthy weight is an essential component of cardiovascular health.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes significantly increases your risk of heart disease. Use of tobacco products in general is problematic for insurance ratings and overall health, including cancer and other health issues. Vaping has also proven to be a health risk.

Stay On Top of Your Medical Care

Your physician and health care team are your partners. Your health insurance agent should be someone who can assist and answer questions about your coverage. Maintaining regular checkups and managing existing medical conditions is crucial to heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. CAD can decrease the blood flow to the heart, creating conditions for a heart attack. Although discussing cardiovascular risks may be frightening, know that with healthy lifestyle choices and regular medical checkups, heart disease can be managed and prevented.

What the heart wants is to be healthy. If you don't have a good health plan or dental plan in place, contact me for a conversation about how you can help your heart health. Your heart will thank you for taking care of it.

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