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February is Heart Health Month

Happy senior Asian couple smiling while holding heart together outdoor. Selective focus on heart.

At the center of our circulatory system is an organ responsible for pumping blood to all the cells in our body—the heart. The blood vessels, arteries, veins, and capillaries could be considered types of highways and intersections. They either lead to or move away from the main organ.

Since 1963, February has been celebrated as American Heart Month, and since 2004, February has also been the month of the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign to increase awareness of heart disease. This has led to earlier diagnosis and treatment of women, hence an improvement in survival rates of women diagnosed with heart disease.

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States? It is also the leading cause of heart failure today. There are approximately eight million people in the United States diagnosed with heart failure today and approximately 500,000 new cases diagnosed yearly. According to the American Heart Association, the number of people diagnosed with heart failure is projected to rise by 46 percent by 2030. This is truly an epidemic. In the United States, the most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease (CAD) and hypertension, which can lead to a heart attack and subsequent damage to the heart muscle.

The risk for coronary artery disease and subsequent heart failure can be reduced; however, it takes community collaboration and support. The challenges are many, including medication management (if prescribed by your health care provider), dietary management, coping with emotional stress, anxiety or depression, keeping all medical appointments, etc. It can seem overwhelming. There are also opportunities to help patients, family, and caregivers make decisions to promote heart health. Innovative and comprehensive services and support from a skilled heart team positively impacts care and recovery.

Last year, Aging and Disability Services sponsored a training on heart failure for staff with an invitation to state and community partners. Staff from Aging and Long-Term Services and Supports (ALTSA), Valley Medical Center, Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and contract agency providers attended the training.

We were privileged to have Dr. Rosemary P. Peterson, a board-certified Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiologist, and Frances Greaves, RN, BSN, Regional Heart Failure Coordinator from CHI Franciscan, provide information about CHI’s Heart Failure program. CHI Franciscan Health holds the distinction of being the first Accredited System for Heart Failure in the Northwest by the Battelle Healthcare Colloquium. This award recognizes CHI Franciscan’s dedication to comprehensive, patient-centered heart care, physician and patient education and excellent outcomes throughout South Puget Sound.

Key messages from this training included:

  • Know your risk factors for heart failure—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, heart valve disease, and substance abuse.
  • Know the warning signs (these are unique to each person)—shortness of breath, swelling (edema), weight gain, feeling tired, easily fatigued, and confused.

What can health care professionals do to help patients manage heart disease?

  • Provide teaching through “teach back”—this method is a way to confirm that information explained to the patient was done in a manner that they understand. It uses plain language (not medical terms) and open-ended questions. The patient is asked to explain back in their own words what they understand from the teaching.
  • Explain warning signs—using either the green, yellow, red zones or “flags.” A green flag indicates health, yellow indicates warnings, and red indicates emergencies. Aging and Disability Services developed—with input from community partners—Self-Management plans including these warning “flags” and Personal Health Records that help patients track providers, medications, and questions for their health care team.

Heart health awareness is important for everyone. For more information, talk with your health care provider.


Contributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN and planner with Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County, extends her gratitude to Dr. Rosemary Paterson, Francis Greaves, RN, Heart Failure Coordinator, and Laureen Tomich, RN, Program Manager, Transitional Care CHI Franciscan for contributing to and reviewing this article.

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