Long known as a month filled with valentines and heart-themed decorations, it’s no wonder that February was chosen as the month to highlight heart health.
The February 2021 celebration marks the 57th annual American Heart Month, and spotlights women’s heart health with a “Heart to Heart: Why Losing One Woman Is Too Many” campaign. In a time when one in three women are diagnosed with heart disease annually, this important month is a time when nurses can check their own heart health and strive to be a resource and help provide patients with accurate and timely information about heart disease.
As always, people can take lots of steps to keep their hearts healthy and can, in fact, prevent or mitigate a great number of serious heart disease cases. A healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in heart health and even moderate steps can have significant impact. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to have a strong heart, and it’s important to talk about small lifestyle changes with patients so they feel like they can make a difference in their own health.
getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, and
getting regular checkups.
And other habits can be just as important for keeping your heart in top shape. Getting enough sleep, keeping socially active with friends and loved ones, and trying to reduce the impact of stress with stress reduction practices (whether that’s a hobby or talking to a professional), all play a part in keeping your heart strong. And everyone should know the symptoms of heart attack or stroke.
Beyond lifestyle changes, do some sleuthing and find out as much as you can about your family’s heart health history. As genetic components can predispose certain families to heart disease, knowing if anyone in your family has had or currently has high blood pressure, a history of heart attacks or strokes, heart valve problems, or heart failure, can help you determine if you’re at a higher risk. It’s especially important to know the ages of these diagnoses as a family history of early heart disease can help guide your own testing and monitoring decisions.
Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with heart disease and often act as a great resource for patients. As they walk patients through their diagnoses and treatment, they are also able to help connect patients and families with other resources including nutritionists, physical therapists, support groups, and other specialists.
February is designated as American Heart Month and lots of recognition days help bring attention to heart health. Nurses who specialize in cardiac care (and who might be celebrating Cardiovascular Professional Week this week) are in especially good roles to help people who are coping with heart disease, and they are also excellent educators to help prevent heart disease in the first place.
A recent survey by the Cleveland Clinic revealed the majority of Americans don’t know heart disease is the number one killer of women. While women might typically fear breast cancer or even the random violence that is so prominent on the nightly news, heart disease actually is the most lethal condition. The survey revealed 68 percent of respondents thought something other than heart disease was the leading cause of death. In fact, heart disease is prevalent for both men and women and actually kills one out of every four Americans.
The Cleveland Clinic study also highlighted a deep lack of understanding about heart disease, its causes, and how it can be prevented. The study showed that while “90 percent of heart disease is due to modifiable/controllable risk factors, only 8 percent of Americans know that.”
Millennials, who need to start practicing heart-healthy habits right now, are especially in the dark, according to the survey. Eighty percent couldn’t identify heart disease as a leading killer of women. The same number or respondents didn’t know people should begin cholesterol checks in their 20s.
Heart disease is often called the silent killer for the symptoms that are easy to dismiss, unrecognizable, or even not present until too much damage has been done. This is why nurses are such essential patient advocates. They can help educate patients, family, friends, and community members about how to prioritize their heart health.
The Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) is an excellent resource for nurses who want to help patients stay heart healthy. Because so many other conditions contribute to heart disease including diabetes, depression, and inherited genetics, there are many people who might not think of heart disease as an issue. Lifestyle factors also play a significant role as the cause of heart disease and the prevention of it.
Some health conditions are things people have no control over, but what nurses can do is help them understand what steps and modifications will help reduce risk. Someone with diabetes, for example, needs to pay extra attention to managing that condition with proper medications but they can also manage that condition and help prevent heart troubles with extra efforts toward heart health.
One of the best ways to begin educating people is to make sure patients have accurate information about everything from diet to high blood pressure. With correct information they can begin making changes that will work. For instance, the Cleveland Clinic survey showed that many people don’t understand that a Mediterranean diet is the most helpful for heart health or that an aspirin a day will not prevent heart disease. And with the dangers of vaping becoming more defined, and more urgent, people need to know vaping isn’t a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes.
If heart health is especially close to your professional interests, you might want to take your expertise to a higher level with the Cardiac Vascular Nurse Certification. If you work with cardiac patients, this qualification is especially important, but it also helps in a more general practice role. With so many people at risk of heart disease, helping patients with prevention can save lives.
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