The 5 Q's: Understanding heart disease with American Heart Association's Julie Lay

Julie Lay

Q. Why does the American Heart Association recognize American Heart Month in February?

A. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Missouri, taking the lives of 14,000 Missourians each year. As the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, heart disease takes more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

American Heart Month is a federally designated event that takes place every February. We celebrate American Heart Month to remind people to focus on their hearts and encourage them to get their families, friends and communities to do the same. The awareness raised during American Heart Month helps save lives by educating people on their risks of heart disease and stroke, and what they can do to prevent them.

Q. What is heart disease? What are the risk factors for it?

A. Heart and blood vessel disease (also called heart disease) includes numerous problems, such as heart valve issues, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and congenital heart defects, among others.

Many heart issues are related to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can block the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

There are three key controllable risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Almost half of all Americans have at least one of these three key risk factors. There are also uncontrollable risks, such as age and family history.

Q. What steps can people take to reduce their risk of heart disease or prevent it?

A. The good news is that 80% of heart disease is preventable in most cases with healthy choices, which include not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, and getting regular checkups. Knowing your family history of heart disease can also be critical to making healthy lifestyle choices that can reduce your risk.

Q. What is the Go Red for Women movement?

A. Go Red for Women — nationally sponsored by CVS Health — is the American Heart Association’s movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. Go Red for Women is working in communities around the world to help women understand that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat and empower them to take action to lower their risk.

While Go Red for Women is entering its 16th year and significant progress has been made in the fight against heart disease and stroke, the simple fact is that cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 killer of women.

Q. What is the American Heart Association's new 10-year goal?

A. Each decade, the American Heart Association develops an impact goal to guide our strategic direction and investments in research, quality improvement, advocacy and public health programs. The goal builds upon our work successfully fighting heart disease and stroke for nearly a century.

Our 2030 impact goal is to equitably increase healthy life expectancy from 66 to at least 68 years in the United States and from 64 to at least 67 years worldwide. As a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, our organization is committed to ensuring everyone can enjoy more years focusing on the people and things most meaningful to them.

For more information, we issued a presidential advisory in the journal Circulation, outlining the 2030 impact goals.

Julie Lay is the regional communications director for the American Heart Association.

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