According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. claiming the lives of approximately 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women each year. In light of these staggering statistics, Allegheny Health Network’s (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute will recognize this year’s National Heart Month by strongly promoting awareness of heart disease prevention and CVD risk factors throughout February.
“Although we’re deeply committed to heart health throughout the year, February provides our Institute a special opportunity to raise awareness and foster education for heart disease, especially its prevention, risk factors and associated symptoms,” said Indu Poornima, MD, cardiologist and director of AHN Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. “As we continue to face ongoing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever we must encourage our patients and the community to fully embrace a heart healthy lifestyle.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) released an article in July detailing the direct and indirect ramifications of the pandemic on cardiovascular health, reporting increases in unhealthy eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and mental health struggles across the country.
Although some may be predisposed to heart disease because of genetic factors, Dr. Poornima and her team estimate that roughly 75 percent of CVD risk factors can be modified. Incorporating aspects of the Mediterranean diet, managing stress levels, getting adequate sleep and launching consistent exercise routines are all recommended practices when it comes to best protecting the heart.
“We’re aware that COVID-19 infections can take a physical toll on the cardiovascular system, but we must also call attention to the indirect toll the pandemic has taken on heart health in this country. During this year’s heart month, we’re strongly encouraging the public to refocus on prevention and keep up with their routine primary care and cardiology appointments,” said Srinivas Murali, MD, heart failure cardiologist and Co-Chair of AHN Cardiovascular Institute. “Perhaps most importantly, if someone is experiencing symptoms signaling a heart attack, we urge them to go to the nearest emergency department and not hesitate due to fear of transmission.”
In an observational study published in the Journal of American Cardiology (doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.10.055), researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical looked at data to evaluate the rate of death due to CVD causes after the onset of the pandemic. They found that deaths caused by ischemic heart disease and hypertensive disease/high blood pressure increased nationally compared with the previous year, and authors suggested that these numbers were primarily due to the avoidance of hospitals out of fear of exposure to COVID-19, among other factors.
“Common symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, feeling weak or light-headed, pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, jaw, neck or back and shortness of breath. Women are more likely to present with symptoms ranging from unusual tiredness to nausea or vomiting,” said Stephen Bailey, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon and chair of AHN Cardiovascular Institute. “If someone is experiencing these symptoms, we can’t stress enough how vital it is to seek care immediately; at AHN, patients can rest assured knowing they are in the best of hands with our award-winning cardiac response teams.”
The AHN Cardiovascular Institute has earned numerous awards and accolades from industry organizations throughout the last year. Most recently, Allegheny General hospital (AGH) joined AHN West Penn as a designated AHA Certified Comprehensive Hypertension Center, the only two in western Pennsylvania with this accreditation. AHN Jefferson and West Penn hospitals were also named among the nation’s top performing for treatment of heart attack patients from the American College of Cardiology, and AGH is the first medical center in Pennsylvania to earn the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for Comprehensive Cardiac Center Certification.
For more information on the AHN Cardiovascular Institute, visit ahn.org.