Elizabeth's Blog: Listen to your heart

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's February and aside from the purple, green and gold of Mardi Gras, you've probably noticed another predominant color hanging about: red.  No, this is not a promotion for Valentine's Day.  However, it is about a topic that is near and dear to my, well, heart.

February is National Heart Month.  According to the American Heart Association and the CDC, heart disease is the number one killer of men and women.

This is a frightening statistic, because any medical professional will tell you that heart disease doesn't always show symptoms.  The signs of heart disease in women are especially hard to detect because the disease affects women very differently and the medical world is just beginning to understand that.

Personally, my family heart history is like a cardiovascular version of Nightmare on Elm Street. Relatives on both sides of my family have suffered heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and other various heart related issues.  My grandfather passed away from a massive heart attack when my mother was only 15 years old. He was only in mid-50's.  Her mother also suffered a heart attack later in life, as well as a series of mini strokes that eventually led to her developing Parkinson's disease.

I know that my family's history of heart disease is partly due to lifestyle choices such as smoking or high fatty diets. (My family hails from the South, after all.) But, I also know that part of the problem could be genetics, and that puts me at a higher risk for my own heart problems.

That is why, even as a young adult, I am very conscious of my heart health.  I try to eat well and exercise regularly.  I've even made several trips to a cardiologist over the years.  At 16, I had my first echocardiogram.  I had pulled a muscle in my ribcage, but because the pain was directly over my heart, my mother insisted on the echo to be sure that nothing else was going on.  At 23, I had two full cardiac work ups because I was experiencing light headedness and an odd pressure in my chest.

At first, my cardiologist seemed amused that a healthy, young adult seemed so concerned about her heart.  However, after explaining my family's tendency for weak tickers, he understood why.

I got a clean bill of health, by the way.  However, that's not always the case.  Just ask American Heart Association Spokeswoman Mary Leah Coco.  She went in for a cardiac exam on a whim.  She found out that she was in the final stages of heart failure.  Read her full story here- it's worth the extra click.

The lesson here is that education is power.  Know your risk factors for heart disease, and your family history.  Also, don't wait to get checked out if you have any concerns and don't be afraid to push for any exams or tests you feel you may need.

"It's your body and you know when something is off and something is wrong. You have every right to find a doctor that will treat you the way you need to be treated that will run the tests that need to run. Maybe something won't come out of it, but you have a right to do that," Coco told me in our interview.  I agree completely.

To learn more about risk factors, and how to talk to your doctor about any concerns, check out the American Heart Association website here or the Centers for Disease Control website here.

Also, the local chapter of the AHA can be reached at (225) 248-7700.

And don't forget to wear your red!

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