February is American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting Americans of all backgrounds. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds and someone dies from heart-disease related causes every minute. One out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States over $200 billion each year in healthcare costs, medications, and lost productivity.
There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major risk factors for one’s heart health. Almost half of Americans (47%) are affected by at least one of these risks. A diagnosis of diabetes also comes with increased risk of heart disease, as well as poor diet, obesity, and excessive alcohol use. There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common diagnosis, resulting from plaque buildup inside of arteries. Other causes of heart disease are arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat; congenital heart defects; cardiomyopathy, or weak heart muscles; heart valve problems; heart infections; or cardiovascular disease.
The first step in being aware of your heart health is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Regular check-ups can give great insight into one’s overall health and is a great opportunity to ask questions about improving your health. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol and set goals with your doctor if they are high. Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly improve one’s heart health: walking every other day if you’re able; controlling portion sizes of meals; eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; and limiting fats and sodium. Quitting smoking can cut one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and not starting leaves one at a distinct advantage. Lastly, take any blood pressure or cholesterol medications as prescribed. It is important to take them as directed by your doctor to ensure the most benefit to your heart health. Getting a full night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have an impact on your overall cardiovascular health.
People with heart disease should take particular precautions during the ongoing (but often ignored/downplayed/normalized) coronavirus pandemic. People with heart disease and other pre-existing conditions are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19. Studies suggest many COVID-19 survivors experience some type of heart damage, even if they didn’t have underlying heart disease or had illness severe enough to be hospitalized. Up to half of those infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can have prolonged symptoms which can include palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath due to damage to the heart. Nearly 25% of those hospitalized have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications, which have been shown to contribute to roughly 40% of all COVID-19-related deaths. The risk of heart attacks and strokes in the months following recovery from COVID increases dramatically even for young people, with fatal heart attacks among adults ages 25-44 years old exceeding nearly 30% over what was predicted in the second year of the pandemic.
NeedyMeds’ Disease Information Page for Heart Disease has information on the assistance available for those in need, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer medications for low or no cost as well as Diagnosis-Based Assistance. Support can also be found in our State Sponsored Program, including the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program to provide low-income, under-insured/uninsured women with chronic risk blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.