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Every part of your body has a purpose, but your heart is one of the most important organs you have. In fact, keeping your heart healthy is vital to living a long, healthy life. This February, celebrate American Heart Month by learning how to prevent heart disease and keep your heart pumping for years to come.

Heart health basics

You probably know generally how the heart works. It helps pump blood to all parts of your body through your arteries, sometimes called blood vessels. This provides your other organs with oxygen and nutrients.

For some people, the arteries that supply blood to the heart can become clogged with a fatty material called plaque. This is a sign of the most common type of heart disease, called coronary artery disease. Over time, the plaque that clogs the arteries can harden and cause the arteries to rupture. This can reduce or block blood flow and oxygen getting to your heart. This blockage can cause serious health issues, including a heart attack.

For most people, plaque buildup happens over time. Certain factors can make this worse. These include:

• High cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Poor diet
• Smoking

Your heart health can affect many other parts of your body. Talk to your primary care provider (PCP) if you have:

• A dry and hacking cough
• Trouble catching your breath doing normal activities
• Swelling of your legs, feet or ankles
• Quick weight gain
• Discomfort and swelling in your stomach area
• Trouble sleeping

Know the signs of a heart attack

Some people with heart disease do not show any symptoms, but a heart attack can happen at any time. This is scary to think about, but knowing the signs of a heart attack can save a life. Signs of heart attack can include:

• Chest pain or discomfort
• Feeling pressure or tightness in the upper body that doesn’t go away
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea or vomiting
• Feeling lightheaded or fainting
• Getting cold sweats

If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 911 right away.

Take steps to prevent heart disease

No one wants to have a heart attack, and it can be extra scary since heart disease often has no symptoms. The good news is there is plenty you can do to help prevent and control heart disease. Use these tips to help keep your heart healthy:

• Eat a balanced diet of heart-healthy foods
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day
• Control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Quit smoking
• Take your medicines as prescribed by your health care providers

If you need support with any of the healthy tips listed here, AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia (DC) can help.

Visit our Member Wellness Center. We are located at 2027 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20020. This is the perfect place to start your heart-healthy journey. We have fitness programs, yoga and cooking classes to help you cook healthier versions of your favorite foods. For a list of activities, visit Then click “Members” at the top of the website, followed by “Classes” on the left.
Sign up for care management. AmeriHealth Caritas DC has special programs for members with heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. One is our care management program. If you are interested, we will pair you with a Care Coach who can help you reach your health goals. To talk to a Care Coach for one-on-one help, call 1-877-759-6224.
Talk to your PCP. Your PCP can help you manage your heart and other health conditions. He or she may even prescribe you medicines to help prevent heart complications. If you need help making an appointment with your PCP, call Member Services at 202-408-4720.
Call our 24/7 Nurse Call Line. If you have questions and want to speak with a health expert after hours, call 1-877-759-6279 (TTY 1-202-216-9885). We can help you learn more about heart health and help you know if your symptoms need a doctor, urgent care, or hospital visit. If you are unsure, just call. Someone is available to take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Strive for a healthier heart today

Heart disease can affect anyone. People of all ages, races and sexes are at risk. That means everybody should take steps to lead healthier lives and prevent heart disease. Making even small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference. Take a stand now and celebrate American Heart Month with a promise to live a healthier life. Your heart is worth it.

Sources: American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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