The month full of valentines and XOXOs is for each and every heart: February is American Heart Month, the national effort to prevent heart attack and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States. Approximately 610,000 people die from this devastating disease each year, which is one in every four deaths. The American Heart Association (AHA) fosters initiatives towards appropriate cardiac care in an effort to reduce disability and the leading cause of death in America. AHA’s purpose is to educate and take a stand to fight back against heart disease and stroke.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow which brings oxygen to the heart muscle is reduced or cut off entirely. Each year about 735,000 Americans will have a heart attack; of these, 525,000 will be first-time heart attacks. Protect yourself and your loved ones by understanding the risk and knowing what to look for.

The five major signs of a heart attack are:

  1. Chest pain or discomfort
  2. Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
  3. Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
  4. Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  5. Shortness of breath


A stroke occurs when a blood vessel which carries nutrients and oxygen to the brain ruptures or is blocked by a clot. The earlier signs of a stroke are noticed the better. Spot a stroke F.A.S.T.:

F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A – Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm fall downward?

S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred?

T – Time: If you observe any of these signs, note the time and call 9-1-1 immediately.

The length of the first symptoms are important and can affect the trained medical help’s decisions. Relay as much information as possible to the doctor or paramedic as soon as they arrive.

Risk Factors

While there are many causes of a heart attack and stroke, it’s important to understand the risk factors. Risk factors are any attribute, characteristic or exposure that increases likelihood of developing a disease. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop a disease or problem.

The five major risk factors for heart attack and stroke are:

  1. Family history of heart disease
  2. Poor exercise
  3. Unhealthy diet
  4. Obesity
  5. Diabetes

The AHA urges everyone to take these matters seriously: “Heart attack and stroke are life-and-death emergencies — every second counts. If you see or have any of the listed symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number. Not all signs occur in every heart attack or stroke.” Take the time to educate your loved ones in the month of February. For further information please visit the CDC and AHA webpages.