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The Heart of the Matter

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Go ahead! Send your sweetie some chocolates along with those roses this year! After all, it’s good for your loved one’s heart—as long as you’re sending a dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. While you’re searching for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, don’t forget that it’s also American Heart Month. Giving your sweetheart the advantage of knowing more about heart disease could be the most worthwhile gift for both of you.

The statistics can be staggering. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Not cancer, but heart disease. Heart failure, one type of heart disease, is responsible for the majority of hospital admissions for Americans who are age 65 and older. Men have a higher risk of developing heart disease than women, but women must pay special attention to symptoms of heart disease they might otherwise ignore. Because women’s symptoms may not be as clearly identified as those of men, the American Heart Association initiated its Go Red for Women campaign as a way to educate women about specific issues affecting them. For both men and women, as we age, our risk of heart disease increases.

Geography also plays a part—and it’s especially concerning for us since we’re caring for an aging population at The Springs: deaths from heart disease are more frequent in the South than in other parts of the country.

So this Valentine’s Day, we want to equip you with information about the affairs of the heart you may find useful in caring for your loved ones as well as yourself.

The Basics

Heart disease is a broad term that includes many types of illnesses related to the function of the heart and vascular system. Some of the more common illnesses under this umbrella include congestive heart failure, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and congenital heart disease. For a description of these particular illnesses and for a complete list of heart disease diagnoses, WebMD is a good place to start.

Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

Health professionals have found that certain factors can put you at greater risk for developing heart disease. Some of these contributing factors are within your control and some are not. Risk indicators out of your control include age, gender, family history, and ethnicity.

Other indicators, though, are within your control, so it’s worth knowing what preventive measures you can take. High blood pressure, high glucose levels, and high cholesterol levels can all be signs of impending heart disease. Regular screenings for these items are recommended, especially for people with a family history of heart disease or who may have multiple risk factors.

Lifestyle can also affect your risk of developing heart disease. Smoking, lack of exercise, being overweight, excessive alcohol use, stress, and depression may lead to heart disease. Changing these lifestyle choices are good preventive measures. Stop smoking. Lose weight. Limit alcohol use. Exercise regularly. Reduce stress. Treat depression. Any of these lifestyle changes will make you feel better overall and will also help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Many hospitals and health care providers are now offering special heart screening programs, even for patients who don’t have any symptoms. If you’re concerned about heart disease, you may want to undergo one of these comprehensive screening programs.

Are You Having a Heart Attack?

As one television commercial touts, you won’t get a notice ahead of time that you’ll be having a heart attack, and, sometimes, the signs of a heart attack can mirror other problems. You may feel that you’re having really bad indigestion when it’s really a heart attack. People most often don’t want to think the worst and may be in denial when feeling aches and pains that signal heart attacks. Knowing the signs could save your life or your loved one’s life. Here are heart attack symptoms compiled by the American Heart Association:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

We’ve often heard warnings about left-sided pain in the chest or arm as a heart attack indicator. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign has worked to highlight both the prevalence of heart disease among women as well as the more unusual heart attack indicators women may experience—and may tend to ignore. Women have gone to see their dentists with jaw pain when they’re actually having a heart attack. In addition to consistent jaw pain, women especially may experience the following signs of a heart attack: back/shoulder pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath, and dizziness/sweating. You should never ignore these warning signs.

A Heart for Caring

At The Springs at Simpsonville, we understand the stress caregivers of heart disease patients may face. Caregivers often take on a coaching role to encourage their loved ones to remain as healthy as possible through watching what they eat, routine exercise, and taking medications appropriately. These lifestyle changes are difficult to face alone and difficult to sustain without supportive coaching and encouragement.

Among all the duties a caregiver may take on, the most important tasks may be medication oversight and communication with all health care professionals. Patients with heart disease often have other illnesses. When multiple physicians are treating multiple illnesses for the same patient, communication and oversight are crucial. Physicians may not have a complete understanding of the patient’s medical profile or of the scope of medications prescribed without someone to ensure communication among all physicians and to clearly identify all medications the patient is taking. Patients with appropriately coordinated care will fare better than those without this type of support.

The job of coordinating medications, physicians, and communication can be overwhelming and can lead to caregivers searching for help. Fortunately, several options are available to assist caregivers, from in-home care to senior living communities. At The Springs at Simpsonville, for instance, we use an electronic medication administration program that assists us in tracking medications for our residents and communicating with all their health care providers.

Whether you’re a caregiver of a patient with heart disease or simply wanting to take good care of yourself, we encourage you to learn more and explore helpful resources. The American Heart Association’s Web site contains detailed information about living with heart disease and taking care of loved ones with heart disease. Of course, our staff is always happy to help you plan the best care possible for your special Valentine.

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