It is estimated that one in four deaths are the result of heart disease and that more than 600,000 people will have their first heart attack every year, which is why February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to educating the public of healthy heart lifestyles.
According to St. Elizabeth Hospital Manager of Community and Provider Education Charla Johnson, heart disease is recognized as the number one disease killer worldwide, with 12 million deaths annually. Louisiana also has the highest rate for heart disease.
"Over the last 30 years in developed countries there has been a decline because there is so much education and primary care focuses around heart health, so we have seen a decline in our developed countries," she said.
There are various variables that can increase the risk for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, genetics, age and obesity, Johnson said. For smokers, the risk of heart disease and stroke is two to four times higher than those who don't smoke and the risk of having a stroke nearly doubles.
The increase of heart disease and heart attacks increases with age. Men typically see heart challenges in their mid 40s and women in their mid 50s, though women are twice as likely die withing the first week weeks of a heart attack than men are, she said.
"If anyone in your family has a history of heart disease you are at risk. There are things we can and cannot control and genetics are not one of them."
Additionally, people who are overweight have two to six times higher risk to developing heart disease than those who are not overweight. There are two types of body shapes that tend to store fat and put people at a high risk. The first is pear shaped. Those who are pear shaped store their fat on the hips and thighs, just below the surface of the skin. Apple shaped people are at the highest risk because they store body fat around their stomach and chest, which surrounds internal organs.
Small changes can make the biggest difference in preventing heart disease or heart failure. The biggest lifestyle change is exercise, said St. Elizabeth Hospital Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Darrin Breaux during last year's Heart Healthy Seminar.
“Exercise is the closest thing we have to a panacea, a cure all,” Breaux said. “Any form of congestive heart failure can be prevented or treated with exercise. You’re training your heart to be more efficient, to be relatively efficient for any disease it has. Exercise is a very common prescription. It will prevent your heart from being inefficient.”
Other lifestyle adjustments include eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, not using tobacco products, checking cholesterol levels and blood pressure and limiting alcohol consumption.
Classic symptoms of a heart attack include pain or discomfort in the jaw, chest, arms or shoulders and feeling weak or light headed.