Check in with your heart during this American Heart Month

Posted at 2:35 PM, Feb 16, 2024

HELENA — While February 14 is the day of heart-shaped candies and roses, the entire month of February is American Heart Month, a time that health officials encourage folks to take a look at their heart health.

“Cardiovascular disease is very prevalent throughout the United States. It’s one of the leading causes of death, mortality, and morbidity throughout this country. And it is something that we can help treat. Plus, prevention is extremely important,” says Nurse Practitioner in the Cardiology Clinic at St. Peter’s Health, Christopher Ottemoeller.

American Heart Month is dedicated to heart health, especially for women. Almost half of US women do not recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Shining a light on this subject is vital so women no longer experience delayed recognition, diagnosis, and treatment for heart-related illnesses. Ottemoeller says that heart attacks can present differently in women than in men. This can include symptoms such as shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea/vomiting. Women’s risk for a heart attack also changes as they get older.

“Before menopause, generally, women are at less risk for cardiovascular disease than men. And then once they have passed menopause then it equals,” says Ottemoeller.

In 2019, over 18 million people worldwide died from cardiovascular disease. This was the most recent year in which worldwide statistics were calculated for this subject.

Ottemoeller says that some common warning signs for a heart attack are shortness of breath and chest pain and common warning signs for atrial fibrillation are fluttering of the chest, shortness of breath, and racing heart. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are excellent ways to maintain heart health, but it’s important to reach out to your primary care doctor for ongoing issues and to head to the emergency room if new issues arise.

“If people are experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain, especially with exercise, it’d be best to go to the emergency department to get that checked out right away. Don't wait until things get worse,” says Ottemoeller.