Heart Disease Awareness Month: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Reduce Your Risk

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February is National Heart Awareness Month, a great time to assess your heart health. Intermountain Healthcare is the leader of advanced heart care in Utah and in the nation. During the month, Intermountain will be providing education and information on heart disease to help you stay as healthy as possible.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Anyone, including children, can develop heart disease. It affects both men and women and afflicts people from all racial and ethnic groups. Because it affects such a large percentage of the population, it’s important that everyone knows facts about heart disease and signs and symptoms to look out for, said Dr. Viet Le, PA–C, from the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.  

National Wear Red Day – FRIDAY, February 5   

National Wear Red Day is the icon day of American Heart Month. On Friday, Feb. 5, wear red and raise awareness of women’s No. 1 killer – cardiovascular disease. 

Cardiovascular disease claims the lives of 1 in 3 women – that’s about one woman every 80 seconds. Together, we can change this because there is nothing women united with purpose cannot achieve.  

“There are lots of ways to be a part of Wear Red Day and American Heart Month, so encourage each person to wear red, post their selfies on social media – and join in to go #GoRed,” said Le. 


There are many different types of heart disease with various causes that range from genetic factors to lifestyle choices or health events that can affect the heart, such as damage from infection. Some pre-existing conditions in the body may put an individual more at risk for developing heart disease, such as high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and diabetes.  

No matter the cause, it’s a good idea to be aware of signs and symptoms of the different types of heart disease so that any potential problems can be caught early and treated appropriately, said Le. 

Here are a few of the most common types of heart disease:  

1. Coronary artery diseaseCoronary artery disease affects the blood vessels of the heart. Like the pipes in our homes, the arteries around the heart can develop a build-up of plaque that narrows the passage. This narrowing can sometimes cause a complete blockage preventing blood flow to certain parts of the heart, which can lead to a heart attack.  

Signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease include: 

  • Chest pain, tightness, pressure or discomfort (also known as angina) 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat or back 
  • Nausea (typically specific to women) 
  • Extreme fatigue (typically specific to women) 

2. Arrhythmias – Heart problems related to the speed and rhythm of the heartbeat are called arrhythmias. Arrhythmias can cause the heartbeat to be too slow, too fast or irregular.  If the rhythm of the heart is ‘off’, it can prevent the heart from having enough force to send the blood out to the rest of the body.   

3. Heart valve and structural heart disease – The heart has four valves that help it pump efficiently; structural heart disease includes conditions affecting these valves or the heart tissue.  Many structural heart diseases are congenital, which means they were present at birth. Some structural heart disease can develop later in life. When the valves or heart tissues aren’t working properly, the blood isn’t able to flow through the heart and out to the rest of the body. For example, blood can become ‘stuck’ in the chambers of the heart and begin to clot, which puts a person at risk for a stroke.   

4. Heart failureHeart failure is a condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Usually, this is because your heart muscle is too weak to “squeeze” out enough blood with each beat. But heart failure can also happen when your heart gets stiff and can’t fill up efficiently with blood between each beat. 

Heart failure is found most often in older people, but it can happen to anyone at any age. It’s a serious condition — and also quite common. Many people with heart failure continue to have a full and active life for many years after their diagnosis. In many cases of heart failure, initial damage weakens the heart muscle.  

To compensate, your heart beats faster and enlarges (stretches or thickens) as shown in the image below. Over time, the heart muscle begins to wear out.

Treatment Options for Heart Disease – Treating your heart disease varies depending on the type, but as a general rule, treatment can include lifestyle changes, medications, and possibly a procedure or surgery. Intermountain Healthcare’s heart care experts work with patients to create a comprehensive and individualized treatment program that may include: 

Lifestyle changes 

  • Altering your diet to include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and limit the intake of fats, sugars, and processed foods. 
  • Regular exercise helps keep the heart toned and healthy, decreases blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and helps lower blood sugar 
  • Smoking cessation. Smoking puts us in danger of developing all sorts of illnesses and is a huge risk factor for heart disease.  If you’re smoking, please stop.  

Prevention of heart disease – Regardless of your health history, there are things you can do today to help prevent the development of heart disease. Decades of scientific research have shown the importance of simple lifestyle changes. Examples include: 

  • Recent research has shown that eating a plant-based diet can have huge benefits on our overall health. 
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Don’t smoke/vape or stop smoking 
  • Manage pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes 
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Manage stress and anxiety and don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor  
  • Meditation is a hot topic these days, and for good reason! It has been shown to impact our overall health in profound ways  

Additional Resources:  

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