American Heart Month: Know Your Heart


February is American Heart Month. Not only because it's the month when we celebrate Valentine's Day, but also a time to focus on our cardiovascular health.

American Heart Month is a federally designated event. It is a reminder to focus on our hearts and to encourage the same to our families, friends and community. President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed The first American Heart Month in February 1964 Proclamation 3566 on December 30, 1963.

The Heart

Our cardiovascular system consists of the heart and blood vessels. The heart pumps blood into the lungs so it can pick up oxygen and then pumps oxygen-rich blood to the whole body. It is a muscular organ and is located in the center to the left of the chest. The size of an adult fist is the average size of a heart.

The heartbeats are evidence that the heart is pumping. Doctors often describe the sound of the heartbeat as "lub-dub". The heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times the heart beats within a minute. The heart rate goes up when the body needs more oxygen (such as during exercise). The heart rate goes down when the body needs less oxygen (such as during rest).

Heart Disease

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women. It is killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.

Symptoms of heart disease in your blood vessels

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back

Heart disease symptoms caused by abnormal heartbeats (heart arrhythmias)

  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

When to see a doctor

Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

Make Your Heart Happy

Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can't be prevented. However, the same lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease can help you prevent it, including:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
  • Eat a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce and manage stress.
  • Practice good hygiene.