A Publication of WTVP

Know your numbers to lower your risk for heart disease.

Did you know that February is American Heart Month? It’s the perfect time to reflect on your heart health, learn your risks for heart disease, and discover ways to lead a healthier lifestyle.

In the United States, heart disease is the number-one cause of death in men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—or one in four deaths. Are you doing your part to keep your heart healthy?

Understanding Heart Disease
Heart disease is a term used to describe different types of conditions that affect the heart’s functionality. Dr. Darrel Gumm, an OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute cardiologist, helps us understand what heart disease is with a simple analogy.

Think of your heart as a house. There are three things that could go wrong with a house: an electrical problem, a plumbing problem or a structural problem.

If your heart has an electrical problem, it beats too fast or too slow.

If your heart has a plumbing problem, one or more of your arteries are partially or fully blocked by plaque—a waxy substance. This restricts blood flow to your heart. If your artery is fully blocked, this can cause a heart attack.

If the person has a structural problem, the condition involves problems with the overall structure of your heart, like your heart muscle or heart valves. Your heart has four valves. Blood passes through these valves to exit the heart before being distributed to the rest of the body. If your valve has a problem opening or closing all the way, that could affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively to the body.

Signs and Symptoms
“Symptoms can vary widely, depending on which category of heart disease you have,” Dr. Gumm explains. “There may be things that are very specific to that category or symptoms may overlap with each category.”

Electrical-related heart conditions can have symptoms like a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath or lack of energy.

Plumbing-related heart conditions can have symptoms like chest pain or tightness, or the inability to be physically active without experiencing chest discomfort.

Structural-related heart conditions can have symptoms like swollen feet or ankles, shortness of breath, or the inability to lie flat.

Preventing Heart Disease
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help lower your risk for heart disease:

“Making an appointment with your primary care doctor yearly is crucial so you can monitor your health closely,” Dr. Gumm says. “This gives you the opportunity to learn your numbers, like your cholesterol. If they aren’t in normal range, then you and your doctor can discuss a treatment plan to keep your numbers under control.” iBi

If you want to know your risk for heart disease, take the heart risk assessment at