Amanda Weisbrod

Show your loved ones just how much you care by spreading the word about heart disease prevention this February for Heart Disease Awareness month.

Heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, takes the lives of about 630,000 American adults — that’s one in every four deaths — each year, according to Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. From 2014 to 2016, Union County’s heart disease death rate of 283 deaths per 100,000 was slightly higher than the state of Oregon’s rate of 261 deaths per 100,000.

CDC reports 47 percent of Americans have at least one of the top three heart disease risk factors, which are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Diabetes, obesity, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol use can also increase the likelihood of heart disease. Although some heart disease risk factors, such as age and genetics, can’t be helped, people can reduce their chance of experiencing heart-related health issues by adjusting their consumption habits.

Dr. John Winters, owner and operator of Winters Naturopathic Clinic in La Grande, includes mental health in his list of heart disease risk factors.

“The most common culprit is some combination of inflammation, elevated blood sugar and stress. Other intertwined factors include genetics, diet, activity level and mental health,” he wrote in an editorial piece. “The body works hard to maintain an inner calm by constantly adjusting levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, hormones and pH. Food, thoughts and physical activity have a direct effect on these levels.”

Instead of eating foods high in saturated fats, sodium, trans fat and cholesterol, which are linked to heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes and vegetable oil into your diet.

By changing everyday habits, like being a little more active, eating healthier and quitting smoking, you can greatly minimize your likelihood of heart disease or stroke, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of CDC.

“Adults can seize the day using daily opportunities to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke,” Schuchat wrote in a press release. “Many of these cardiovascular events are happening to middle-aged adults — who we wouldn’t normally consider to be at risk. Most of these events can be prevented through daily actions to help lower risk and better manage medical conditions.”

Catching a heart attack early on can greatly improve the chances of survival, according to CDC, so it’s important to know signs and symptoms of heart disease, although they vary between sexes. For men, heart attack symptoms include: pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, chest, back, arms or shoulders; feeling weak, light-headed or faint; and shortness of breath. In addition to these symptoms, women are likely to experience unusual or unexplained fatigue and nausea or vomiting when having a heart attack.

Beth Callison, director of nursing at Grande Ronde Hospital, said in addition to Heart Disease Awareness month, February is also Go Red for Women month, which is “a national movement designed to create women’s heart health awareness (that) serves in helping change and improve the lives of women globally.”

“Women are under-diagnosed a lot of times because our symptoms are different than men, so (organizers of Go Red for Women) feel that it’s imperative that women learn the warning signs and symptoms of heart disease and stroke,” she said. “It’s making sure that women stand together and get their voices heard to say, ‘We are different, and we are important.’”

Heart disease, in both sexes, is preventable, according to CDC. Janet Wright — a board certified cardiologist and executive director of Million Hearts, a heart-health awareness initiative led by CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — notes that in order to fight against the heart disease epidemic, adults need to take individual responsibility to educate themselves and change their habits to improve their personal cardiovascular health.

“The solution for this national crisis does not depend on a brilliant new discovery or a breakthrough in science,” Wright wrote in a statement. “The solution already lies deep within every person, community and health care setting across America. Small changes — the right changes, sustained over time — can produce huge improvements in cardiovascular health.”