A Valentine for Your Heart

By: Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate matters of the heart, is the perfect reminder that February is American Heart Month.  There’s no better gift for those you love, or for yourself, than to help ensure a healthy heart.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  One in every three deaths in our country is from heart disease and stroke.  That’s equal to 2,200 deaths each day, every day, or more than 800,000 per year.  But more than abstract statistics, every victim is a parent or child, spouse or sibling, grandparent or friend.  There’s not a single family, not a single individual, who hasn’t been touched by this devastating epidemic.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Cardiovascular disease is also very expensive.  Together, heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost the nation more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity, and they are among the leading causes of disability.  One out of every six health care dollars is spent on cardiovascular disease treatment, and cardiovascular disease accounts for the greatest disparity in life expectancy across our racially and ethnically diverse population.

Too often, when we think of heart disease, we think that it only affects men.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Nearly 43 million women, one-third of all women in America, are living with or are at risk for heart disease.  More women die from heart disease than from anything else, more than from all forms of cancer combined, and it’s largely preventable.

The FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH) maintains a web page which provides links and resources related to heart health.  The website features the OWH heart disease in women fact sheet and publications on hypertension, cholesterol, smoking cessations, and other ways to promote a healthy heart.

As a physician, I know that hereditary issues play a role in heart disease.  But, the majority of risk factors are controllable or treatable, regardless of your age or physical ability.  Make healthy eating choices.  Don’t smoke.  Reduce sodium and transfats in your diet.  Regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Maintain a healthy weight.  Manage stress.  And, get active.  All of these things will help you enjoy a healthy heart and lifestyle.  Use this American Heart Month to educate yourself about heart disease, its risk factors, and ways to beat it.

One way the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is helping Americans achieve healthier hearts and lives is through the “Million Hearts” initiative.  It’s a new public-private partnership launched in September of 2011 that’s trying to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.  The “Million Hearts” initiative will focus, coordinate, and enhance cardiovascular disease prevention activities across the public and private sectors through a wide range of activities targeted at improving clinical care and empowering Americans to make healthy choices.

Within HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are helping us lead the “Million Hearts” initiative, working alongside many other federal agencies.  Key private-sector partners include the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the YMCA, other non-profit agencies, communities and health systems.

Preventing one million heart attacks by 2017 is an ambitious goal that will require work and a steady commitment to change from each one of us.  Visit Million Hearts to learn more about the steps you can take to help reach this national goal, and to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.  Additionally, take the pledge to be one in a Million Hearts!

Margaret Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.

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