February is American Heart Month. But just what is the difference between a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and how are they affected by conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure?

Stoke and cardiac arrest (also known as a heart attack) are acute (sudden) conditions, whereas heart disease and high blood pressure are chronic (long-term) heart conditions, which all can lead to heart failure.

About 659,00 people in the United States die from some form of heart disease each year. That is about 1 in 4 of all U.S. deaths.

Many heart disease-related deaths result from preventable heart conditions. Those you cannot prevent are congenital anomalies, often detected at birth. These conditions are caused early in pregnancy or inherited, so tell your doctor about any heart conditions in your family history.

As we grow older, the likelihood of our suffering from a form of heart disease increases. As with any other machine, the heart will eventually wear out. But just as with any other machine, good maintenance will ensure that it performs better and lasts longer. Poorly treated, your heart will age faster than you.

What is your Heart age?

Your ‘heart age’ is the effective age of your heart and blood vessels, considering your risk factors for heart failure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women have a heart age that is five or greater years than their actual age.

Many risk factors result from lifestyle choices that you can prevent or control and dramatically reduce this risk.

The following conditions can add years to your heart age:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes (Types 1 and 2)
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Tobacco or nicotine use

What are the Symptoms of Heart Failure?

As we said earlier, heart disease can lead to heart failure. Some of the most common heart failure symptoms are:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomach pain
  • Pain that spreads to the arm/neck or jaw
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Throat or jaw pain
  • Becoming exhausted easily
  • Snoring or sleep apnea
  • Sweating
  • A persistent cough
  • Swollen legs, feet, or ankles
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

If you suffer these symptoms, consult your doctor.

If you experience any combination of these urgent symptoms, call 911 for emergency medical assistance:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat accompanied by a sudden, severe shortness of breath
  • Coughing up white or pink foamy mucus

How do you reduce the risk of heart disease or failure?

Generic heart disease cannot be prevented. Here are lifestyle changes you can make that will improve your chances of avoiding heart disease or lessen the risk of a recurrence:

  • Quit tobacco or nicotine use, including vaping
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce and manage stress to control blood pressure
  • Regularly exercise
  • Keep to a low fat, low sodium (salt) diet
  • Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes

Where can I turn to for medical advice?

Don’t try to diagnose yourself. There are many causes of heart disease and failure, and the symptoms are often very similar. Turn to your Doctor. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many screenings are available free with no co-insurance or co-pay, such as:

  • Alcohol misuse screening and counseling
  • Blood pressure screening
  • Cholesterol screening
  • Diabetes (Type 2) screening
  • Obesity screening and counseling
  • Tobacco (nicotine) use screening and cessation

Finally, the ACA also makes sure that you cannot be refused health insurance on the grounds of a pre-existing condition. So, whatever the outcome of any diagnosis, you need not worry that you will lose your coverage. An experienced, qualified health insurance advisor can help you find affordable plans that best meet your anticipated needs.

Uninsured? You likely qualify for cheap and often even FREE health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)! During the Special Enrollment Period (SEP), TrueCoverage can connect you with quality ACA health insurance if you have had a qualifying life-changing event recently, such as losing your health insurance, moving, getting married/pregnant, having a baby, and more.

Or, if you are approaching 65 years of age, TrueCoverage can also connect you with Medicare Advantage plans or supplemental policies!