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American Heart Month: Risk factors, symptoms of heart disease, and tips to get proactive

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

PORTLAND, Ore. — February is American Heart Month and Tonya Adams with Regence and the American Heart Association shares risk factors for heart disease, what are some heart attack symptoms and tips to getting proactive.

"It’s an opportunity for everyone to take a step back and understand all the factors of heart health and just ways you can keep your heart healthy and functioning," said Adams, chief health services officer for Regence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the U.S.

"Just the overall awareness of how to take care of your heart and the things you can do for prevention is very important," Adams said.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the country, according to the CDC. In 2020, heart disease accounted for one in every five deaths. 

Heart disease is a big term that refers to many types of heart conditions.

In the U.S., the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). It is the main cause of heart attacks, according to the CDC.

It affects the blood flow to the heart, and decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Heart Attack Symptoms

  • Chest pain or discomfort. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but the shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.

While many symptoms, such as chest pains, apply to everyone women are much more likely to get less common symptoms. Those include indigestion, shortness of breath and back pain; sometimes even without obvious chest discomfort.

"All of those things, you could think well, I’m just having a bad day," Adams said.

"Well, it’s not. It’s an immediate symptom you might be having a heart attack."

Heart Disease Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use


It’s all about the basics: eating well, exercising and keeping up with yearly doctor visits.

"Then you’ll get your lab work. You’ll know what your cholesterol numbers are and any other things that may contribute to heart disease, but having that relationship with your physician, being open and honest about all your health issues will help you be well-armed and manage your health," Adams said. 

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