By Dr. Crystal Moore
On Valentine’s Day, people give gifts to acknowledge and celebrate loving relationships. Why not take time this February to help ensure that not only the gift, but also the gift-giver will be present for years to come?
February is Heart Health Awareness Month.
As a board-certified member of the College of American Pathologists, I know that of all the diagnoses I make, cancer is one of the most feared. However, heart disease claims more lives than all types of cancers combined. More importantly, with early awareness, intervention, and action, these deaths are largely preventable. With that in mind, while you are taking time to celebrate those closest to you, remember to prioritize heart health—yours and that of your loved ones.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes per year. Among African Americans, nearly 44 percent of men and 48 percent of women have some form of heart disease. And, contrary to popular belief, heart disease does not just affect men. It is the number one killer of women, causing one in three of their deaths.
The good news is that decreasing our risk of heart disease is as simple as learning our ABCDS:
- A is for Aspirin. If you have been identified as a person at risk for heart disease, low doses of aspirin “thin” the blood and help reduce clotting, which decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Take aspirin only as directed by your health care provider.
- B is for Blood Pressure. The leading cause of heart attacks and stroke is high blood pressure. The prevalence of high blood pressure, or hypertension, in African Americans is the highest of any population in the world. Known as the “silent killer,” hypertension can quietly cause permanent heart damage without any symptoms. To prevent this, know your family history, have your blood pressure checked regularly, and, if diagnosed, take all medications as prescribed.
- C is for Cholesterol. Although some cholesterol is required for normal cellular function, too much can cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This condition reduces blood flow to vital organs, such as the brain and the heart, potentially causing strokes and heart attacks. There are two types of cholesterol, HDL, known as “good cholesterol” and LDL, or “bad cholesterol.” Have your levels checked and take any medications to lower it as prescribed by your health care provider.
- D is for Diabetes. Diabetes is a common condition that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. African Americans are 77 percent more likely to suffer from this treatable, and often preventable, disease than Caucasians. Left unchecked, the complications of diabetes include blindness, amputations, renal failure, and heart disease. Have your fasting glucose checked, know your family history, and take all medications as prescribed to maintain your blood sugar at an acceptable level.
- S is for Stop Smoking. People who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease, and approximately one out of five deaths from heart disease is directly attributable to smoking. Kicking the habit will decrease your chances of developing cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. Consult with your help care provider to develop a smoking cessation plan.
This February and throughout the year, show your family, friends, and Valentine how much you really love them by investing in lifestyle modifications. Cook healthy meals together that are low in sodium and high in fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Enjoy a brisk 30 minute walk, bike ride, or other physical activity together every day. Schedule visits with your health care providers to “learn your numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose, body mass index other important test results) and develop a plan to take control of your heart health. This Valentine’s Day, give the gift of your life for many years to come.
Follow Crystal Moore, MD, PhD, FCAP at www.DrCrystalMoore.com or on Twitter (@DrCrystalAMoore) for more health information and to receive a Prescription For Life (#RxForLife) to maximize your wellness in body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Dr. Moore professed, even as a young child, that she wanted to be a physician. For her, medicine is not just a profession, but also a calling. Following that calling led her to pursue a dual doctorate, physician-scientist, MD/PhD degree at the Medical College of Virginia. Her PhD was awarded in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. She completed her residency training in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology at Duke University and is a board-certified Fellow of the College of American Pathologists.
Dr. Crystal A. Moore is a native of the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where she resides with her two teenage sons.