Heart disease is serious business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Here in Hawaii, it accounts for three out of 10 deaths.
February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about cardiovascular health. The CDC says that high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. While other risk factors like genetics and age are out of our control, Helaine Kwong, M.D., cardiologist at The Queen’s Medical Center, says there are some lifestyle changes that can help lower our chances of heart disease.
“Exercise, eat well, and then go to the doctor. Get your screening so that if you’re at a higher risk genetically, then at least we can catch things early and try to get you on medications and really focus on prevention,” Dr. Kwong says.
She recommends a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods since eating foods high in saturated fat and trans fat could be a contributing factor to heart disease. Dr. Kwong advises most people to commit to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five days a week. It’s also important to focus on self-care.
“A lot of times we get really caught up in life, like work, stress from family, maybe caring for other people. And then we forget about ourselves and don’t take time to make sure that we’re healthy,” Dr, Kwong says. “So de-stress, eat well, get out there, walk around, see nature, and take care of yourself.”
Focusing on your well-being has other benefits, too. Mark Mugiishi, M.D., president and CEO of HMSA, adds that exercise and healthy diet make your heart stronger, which will also improve your quality of life.
“You know if you do that, you’re going to feel better, too,” Dr. Mugiishi says. “So during Heart Month, remember to take care of your health. Help us at HMSA improve your life and the heart health of Hawaii.”
What to do if you’re having a heart attack
According to the CDC, signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual or unexplained tiredness
If you notice symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. The sooner you receive emergency medical treatment, the higher your chances are of surviving. Receiving quicker treatment will also reduce the amount of damage to your heart muscle.
Dr. Kwong encourages everyone to create a baseline understanding of their health, so that if problems arise, you and your doctor know when to act.
“If anything seems wrong to you or deviates from your baseline, definitely get that checked because you may save a life. And that life could be yours,” Dr. Kwong says.
Check out this video with Dr. Kwong and Dr. Mugiishi discussing the importance of American Heart Month, the impact of heart disease on Hawaii, and what you can do to improve your overall health and well-being.
For more information on how to prevent heart disease, check out heart healthy and learn about the American Heart Association's Life's Essential 8 campaign for lifelong good health.