February is American Heart Month, and it’s always wise to refresh our knowledge on heart health and disease prevention.

Seniors and their families and caregivers should particularly look out for signs of disease. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), people age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease and heart failure. Aging causes changes in the heart and blood vessels, and fatty deposits in the walls of arteries can build up over many years. Heart disease is also a major cause of disability, limiting activity and eroding the quality of life of millions of older people.

Keys to Preventing Heart Disease

The good news is that heart disease is preventable in most cases with healthy choices. The American Heart Association recommends the basics of:

  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Treating high blood pressure
  • Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week
  • Getting regular checkups

There are lots of good tips for improving diet, sleep and fitness on the American Heart Association’s Healthy Living page.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends asking your doctor questions to learn more about your risk for heart disease and what to do about it. Learn what you can do if you are at increased risk or already have a heart problem.

  1. What is my risk for heart disease?
  2. What is my blood pressure?
  3. What are my cholesterol numbers? (These include total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.) Make sure your doctor has checked a fasting blood sample to determine your cholesterol levels.
  4. Do I need to lose weight for my health?
  5. What is my blood sugar level, and does it mean that I’m at risk for diabetes?
  6. What other screening tests do I need to tell me if I’m at risk for heart disease and how to lower my risk?
  7. What can you do to help me quit smoking?
  8. How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
  9. What’s a heart-healthy eating plan for me?
  10. How can I tell if I’m having a heart attack? If I think I’m having one, what should I do?

Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

Don’t wait to get help if you, or the loved one you’re caring for, experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:

  • Chest discomfort – Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath – This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs – Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Cardiac arrest symptoms include a sudden loss of responsiveness, such as no response to tapping on shoulders, and a loss of normal breathing.

This February, and all year long, make taking care of your heart a priority!