When February rolls around, many Americans think of three things: Super Bowl Sunday, a long President’s Day weekend, and—love it or loathe it—Valentine’s Day and its hearts-and-flowers sentimentality…big emphasis on hearts. And while fancy chocolates and frilly cards are more recent expressions of affection, hearts have been associated with Valentine’s Day as a symbol of love for centuries.
But when it comes to your real heart, are you giving it all the loving it needs?
Clearly, many of us are not. Heart disease remains the #1 cause of death in the U.S. and has been since 1950—well ahead of the coronavirus or cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, congestive heart failure (CHF) is the leading reason for hospitalization for adults over age 65, accounting for 1 million patients each year. Today, 120 million Americans are living with a heart condition. And despite medical advances in treatment, and extensive evidence on how lifestyle factors can prevent or moderate heart disease risk, heart failure is on the rise.
No wonder the American Heart Association picked February as the ideal time for American Heart Month to remind us of the seriousness of heart disease, its causes, and prevention. So while you’re savoring that heart-healthy piece of Valentine’s Day chocolate (dark only!), read on to learn how to show your heart some true love.
Preventing a Broken Heart
Many major risk factors contribute to heart failure, some of which we can control and some of which we cannot. Chief among the latter is aging, which makes the rise in heart disease in the U.S. unsurprising, given the nation’s rapidly aging population. Another uncontrollable factor is race, with Black Americans 1.5 times more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with chronic heart failure. Although more research is needed to determine the exact cause of the discrepancy, genetics and poor access to timely health care are contributing factors. In addition to age and race, sex and structural defects are also beyond our control.
That said, there are many behaviors and lifestyles that we can adopt or change to keep heart disease at bay. Managing high cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and getting regular exercise can all reduce chances of developing heart disease. So, too, will reducing excessive alcohol consumption and quitting smoking and other tobacco use. In fact, a 2020 study in the British medical journal Lancet revealed that approximately 70% of all cardiovascular cases and deaths were attributable to such modifiable risk factors.
The bottom line: For many of us, the health of our hearts lies mostly in our own hands…and that includes younger people who are developing heart disease at earlier ages. Here’s how you can get a handle on your heart’s health.
Your Heart is Counting on You!
Among the top advice offered by the American Heart Association is to Know Your Numbers— blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. Today, measuring and tracking such vital statistics is simple and fast with technology you can use at home, such as digital blood pressure monitors that register both BP and heart rate. You can also use apps on your phone or computer, or wearable fitness devices that often offer other sophisticated monitoring like EKGs and blood oxygen levels. Cholesterol can be tested at the doctor’s office for a base line, then managed through diet, exercise, and if needed, medication.
An awareness of where you stand helps you assess your personal risk for heart disease and what steps—maybe literally—you may need to take to reduce your risk, or control heart disease. Those steps may include increasing how often and how far you walk each day, or otherwise increasing your exercise level. Losing weight and cutting back on alcohol can also help. When trying to break unhealthy habits, partnering with a friend or family member usually works better than going it alone. So, if your numbers reveal you need to take action, consider American Heart Month your cue to get going!
When You Can’t Manage Heart Disease on Your Own
People who already have advanced heart disease like congestive heart failure (CHF) face a number of serious and hard-to-manage symptoms including shortness of breath, major fatigue, persistent cough, swelling in the legs and ankles, chest pain, loss of appetite/nausea, and depression and anxiety. Too often, this results in a cycle of trips to the doctor, emergency room, and hospital stays, all of which contribute to even greater stress and expense. The pattern is likely to continue without the right care at the right time.
Capital Caring Health (CCH) can help.
Our Advanced Cardiac Care (ACC) program is designed to keep patients with late-stage heart disease safely in the privacy and comfort of their own home. An interdisciplinary CCH care team works with the patient’s doctor and family to create a customized care plan, unique to each patient. The comprehensive program also gives patients and their caregivers the knowledge, tools, and confidence to effectively manage the condition on their own from day to day. Studies of Medicare beneficiaries confirm that such care for cardiac patients can increase longevity, improve quality of life, and lower the risk of being readmitted to the hospital.
The ACC program features:
- Regular visits and check-in calls by a nurse with specialized training
- Patient education customized for each patient and family
- Medications to help control symptoms
- Additional supportive care as requested—from a social worker, nurse assistant, chaplain, counselor, and/or a volunteer
- A detailed Patient and Caregiver Handbook, filled with practical information and tools on symptom monitoring and management, self-care, medications, diet, and more.
The program was developed in conjunction with other experts from the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovations (NPHI), a collection of nonprofit hospices across the country. The American Heart Association served as a source for patient and family support material, and also validated clinical information contained in the handbook.
The Heart of the Matter
Advancements in heart disease are making huge strides in preventing, diagnosing, and treating all forms of heart disease. From earlier risk detection and lifestyle interventions…to new medications and more effective, less invasive treatments…to personalized medicine and custom care management, people with heart disease have more options than ever.
At Capital Caring Health, we’ve combined all that we’ve learned over the years in understanding and caring for people living with end-stage heart disease into the more structured Advanced Cardiac Care approach. By providing the right care at the right time, difficult symptoms can be safely managed at home, not at the hospital. Feeling better, with less stress and anxiety, and knowing your CCH care team is ready to help whenever needed results in improved quality of life for patients and families.
Wrap up February on a heart-wise note! Join Capital Caring Health’s Center for Health Equity in partnership with Bluerock Primary Care for “Matters of the Heart – Working Toward Whole Heart Health,” on February 28, at 5pm. Dr. Alka Gupta, Bluerock’s Chief Medical Officer will discuss various factors that contribute to better heart health. To register in advance, go to: https://capitalcaring.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_QD7jZ6uiTpSwbhd9mVV96A
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the webinar.
To learn more about the Capital Caring Health Advanced Cardiac Care program, visit our website or call toll-free (800)-869-2136 24 hours a day/7 days a week. You can also review or download a copy of the Patient and Caregiver Handbook.