American Heart Month raises awareness

  • Published
  • By Merrie Schilter-Lowe
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The nation celebrates American Heart Month in February to raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, causing 1 in 4 deaths each year in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.

“Heart disease is not selective – everybody is potential fair game,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Shea Pribyl, 60th Medical Group, cardiothoracic surgeon at the David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base. 

Heart disease describes a range of conditions affecting the heart, including coronary artery disease – a disease in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries – heart arrhythmia and congenital heart defects. 

Risk factors for heart diseases include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol – which increases the risk of heart attack – diabetes and prediabetes, being overweight, lack of exercise, smoking, unhealthy eating habits, heavy drinking, stress, age, gender and genetics.  For women, depression is also a factor and women with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease than men. 

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joseph Sky, 60th Medical Group chief of cardiology, has treated patients with coronary heart disease as young as age 20 as well as those past 90 years of age.  The majority of the patients, however, are veterans and retirees. 

“Our active duty patients, who are younger and more active, usually have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, which may not always present until something happens,” said Sky.   

For this reason, DGMC provides cholesterol and diabetes screening, smoking cessation classes and chronicles family history.  

“The whole health care system is designed to identify risks,” said Sky.  “We encourage healthy living because we’re trying to prevent heart disease down the road.” 

While medications and medical procedures treat or help prevent coronary heart disease and reduce the risk of related health problems, there are some basic steps people can do for themselves.

“One is lower cholesterol levels and stop smoking,” said Pribyl. “Diabetes is another factor.  Control that with diet and exercise.”    

Although chest pain is a common symptom of heart disease, it’s not always the first symptom for women.  Women are more likely to have neck, jaw, shoulder or upper back or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; pain in one or both arms; sweating, nausea, lightheadedness or dizziness and unusual fatigue.  Women’s symptoms also may occur more often when they are resting or asleep. 

Both men and women should seek immediate medical care if they experience symptoms from the head to the abdomen that are not normal for them, said Sky. 

“Don’t stay home and try to figure it out,” said Sky.  “Let the professionals do that.”