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February is American Heart Month

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, and February is American Heart Month.

"During February we should review the risk factors for heart disease, the warning signs of a heart attack and check our personal habits to assure we are doing everything possible to keep our hearts healthy," said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

According to Roberts, there are risk factors for heart disease that we have no control over, like age or family history of heart disease.

There are other risk factors that can be controlled. They include: lack of physical activity, overweight and obesity, too much alcohol intake and cigarette smoking.

High blood cholesterol is also a risk factor for heart disease. As cholesterol rises, so does the risk for heart disease. Blood cholesterol can be controlled with any combination of diet, exercise and medication.

Two other risk factors for heart disease include diabetes and high blood pressure.

"Many people are walking around with one or both of these conditions and do not know it," said Roberts.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people be screened for diabetes regularly starting at age 45. Blood pressure should also be checked on a regular basis.

"Ideally, your blood pressure reading should be at or below 120/80," said Roberts.

When a person does suffer from a heart attack, getting the patient to the hospital quickly is crucial for life-saving measures to be taken.

For this reason, the American Heart Association says it is important to know the warning signs of a heart attack. They include: 1. Chest discomfort that may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; 2. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, which may include one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; 3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort; 4. Other signs that may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

"If you have a risk factor for heart disease, do your loved ones a favor and make just one change to prevent or delay the onset of heart disease," said Roberts. "One thing you can do that doesn't cost any money is walk briskly for 30 minutes most days of the week. Walking helps the cardiovascular system work more efficiently, helps control blood sugar and cholesterol."

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