February is American Heart Month — what better time to reassess how well you are taking care of your heart health?

Know Your Risk Factors

As a minority nurse, you probably know certain minority groups have higher risks for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, African Americans, American Indians/Native Alaskans, and Hispanics have an increased risk of heart disease and its associated problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

Other risk factors include hereditary factors (others in your family have heart disease), smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet.

Know the Signs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a few heart attack signs and symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

Women also tend to have symptoms that are different from men and, therefore, aren’t always immediately considered as heart trouble.

Watch for these unusual signs:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Feelings of unease or anxiety

Heart disease isn’t called the silent killer for no reason. If you feel something is off, whether that’s occasional chest pain with exercise or under stress, heart palpitations, or off-and-on chest discomfort, always be cautious and get it checked.

Reduce Your Risk

If you have risk factors for heart disease, you should monitor your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and your blood sugar. Try to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, being sure to rest, staying connected with loved ones, and trying to keep your stress levels in check.

With the hectic pace of a nurse’s day, getting any time to bring your stress down a notch is a struggle. But one simple way to help with stress reduction is to step outside. Plenty of research backs up the idea that more time outside is better for your health. A few minutes walking at lunch, parking far enough away in a parking lot, or even just getting a few breaths of fresh air on a break can have huge benefits on your physical health and your mental health. Getting into nature can clear your mind, lower your blood pressure, and help you clear out the mental clutter enough to focus better when you come back to work.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of men and women in the United States, so paying attention to your own heart health is one of the best preventative measures you can take.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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