February is the month of hearts, roses and Valentine’s Day, and is generally considered a time to celebrate love and healthy relationships.
According to local cardiologist Marcus Brown, February is also a good time to reflect on cardiovascular health and the signs and symptoms associated with coronary heart disease.
“I like to remind the public of how significant heart disease is,” Brown said. “We need to remind people that heart disease is the number one killer in the world … About 800,000 people a year are killed by it.”
Brown is the chief of cardiology at Northside Hospital, and he said he sees patients dealing with heart disease and issues relating to it every day at the practice where he works, Northside Heart.
“So, I stress to all of my patients how important it is to have a healthy heart, but I always start by explaining what heart disease actually is and what it means. People hear the word ‘disease’ and you’d be surprised how they react,” he said.
According to Brown, heart disease is a chronic disease that involves a buildup of plaque within the coronary arteries. He said that this buildup can range in severity from manageable to severe and can be treated by a variety of different measures.
Brown said that people need to know if they are at a higher risk for heart disease and how to spot symptoms when they occur.
“Early recognition is key,” he said.
Brown stated that the most common symptom of heart disease is chest pain and discomfort. He said that the pain can feel like a tightness or heaviness in the chest, and might radiate to other parts of the body.
“Generally, what we are talking about is a discomfort or sensation that is in the middle of the chest right over the heart,” Brown said.
He said if pain is worsened by activity or exercise, it’s a major warning sign.
He said chest pain combined with shortness of breath are serious warning signs that mean you should probably seek medical help. He added that anyone who is feeling pain in the chest, around their heart, should talk to a doctor.
Brown said that men over 45, women over 55, smokers, people with a family history of heart disease, people with diabetes or high blood pressure, and people who live a sedentary lifestyle are at greater risk for heart disease.
“All of those things put you at a greater risk,” he said.
He said that being in those risk groups or even receiving a heart disease diagnosis are not a death sentence.
Brown said that anyone can lower their risk by educating themselves to the dangers of heart disease and managing their risk factors.