February is American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month

American Heart month is a real thing nurses, and no we’re not talking about taking care of your heart romantically in spite of the fact that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Did you know it’s not a new appointment either? American Heart Month came to fruition in 1963 in a joint resolution by Congress to acknowledge the serious threat cardiovascular disease presents to all of us.

Today, we’ll cover:

1. Heart disease facts

2. Heart disease risk factors

3. Heart health tips for travel nurses

Heart Disease is a Leader – in a Bad Way

While we generally rank items in a way that means being at the top of the list means being the best. That heart disease is a leading cause of death is definitely negative: however, by focusing attention, research, technology, and awareness on the masterful organ that pumps blood through our bodies we have expanded profoundly our ability to understand, to prevent, to treat, and to heal. As we direct our efforts to heart health not only in the healthcare industry but within our communities and society at large, we can challenge heart disease’s leader ranking and impact its deathly toll.

Heart Disease FACTS

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.1

  • One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.1

  • About 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.2

  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 360,900 people in 2019.4

  • About 18.2 million adults age 20 and older have CAD (about 6.7%).3

  • About 2 in 10 deaths from CAD happen in adults less than 65 years old.4

  • Heart disease costs the United States about $363 billion each year from 2016 to 2017.2 This includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.

  • In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.3

  • Every year, about 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Of these,

    • 605,000 are a first heart attack3

    • 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack3

    • About 1 in 5 heart attacks are silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.

Heart disease facts sourced directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Are you at risk of heart disease? While we all might spend time here and there pondering our physical or mental health (particularly at the start of a new year i.e. fitness resolutions) Have you considered whether or not you are at risk for heart disease? Simply being a healthcare clinician does not guarantee awareness of personal risk factors. In fact, it is often said that doctors and nurses are terrific at analyzing health risks and needs in their parents while simultaneously they are terrible at directing those analyses to themselves. Why not take a moment for some self-analysis in the name of American Heart Month?

Common risk factors for heart disease in men and women:

  • Smoking – It’s not merely harmful to your lungs.

  • High blood pressure – Also known as hypertension, if your blood pressure is high then your heart is having to work harder which in turn can harden or stiffen your heart muscle.

  • High bad cholesterol – Bad cholesterol is the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and you want this number to be low, if it is high there are steps you can take to lower it.

  • Excessive alcohol use – Casual drinkers won’t need to worry as much about this risk factor. Nevertheless, excessive drinking will increase your blood pressure so be thoughtful and moderate in your alcohol consumption.

  • Obesity – This risk factor ties in directly to high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

  • Type 2 diabetes – If you have diabetes, focus on controlling your glucose levels.

  • Stress – stress has been identified as a risk factor as a result of its link to high blood pressure, and coping habits such as excessive drinking or overeating.

Heart Health Tips for Travel Nurses

Travel nurses, rather healthcare travelers in general, face a multitude of stressors in their work lives. While the benefits to life and career as a travel clinician cannot be denied (we dive in depth about the career benefits here) that does not mean everything is easy ‘hakuna matata’ all the time. Here’s our list of heart health tips to help you.

1. Easy on the alcohol. Checking out the nightlife in an exciting new destination is definitely a common ‘to do’ for travelers. Regardless, take some time to reflect on your drinking habits. Establish a limit and hold to it. For travelers that worry their drinking habit may be out of control, there is no shame in seeking help. Open AA meetings are available everywhere, and thanks to the pandemic you can even find them on zoom. To look for a meeting near you, click on the ‘Find A.A. Near You’ page on their official site, or download their smartphone app, ‘The Meeting Guide App’ available for both iOS and Android.

2. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Take a walk or jog to explore the neighborhood of your assignment, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or download an exercise app to guide you to get your heart thumping! Make the commitment small to make it realistic, just 20 minutes a day is great for your heart and you might be surprised what it does for your mood as well.

3. Eat foods that will help to lower your LDL cholesterol. Nuts, beans, oats, apples, grapes, eggplant, and strawberries are all foods that can work to lower your cholesterol. Oatmeal for breakfast is my favorite; sometimes I like it hot, sometimes cold with honey and fruit. These are tangible ideas of foods that are relatively easy to integrate into your meals. Sometimes the small steps will bring you big gains.