Life, death are matters of the heart in Alabama

Published 10:41 pm Monday, February 8, 2010

While all the adults may see President’s Day as the only legal holiday on the February’s calendar, for most kids and sweethearts, Valentine’s Day is the only real holiday in the last month of winter. Even though the day falls on a Sunday this year, every parent is helping their children fill out little cards for classmates, candies are being bought and the florists are gearing up for their biggest day of the year.

The heart is the symbol for Valentine’s Day, and it is appropriate that February is also American Heart Month, an awareness campaign of the American Heart Association. Since 1963, Congress has required the president to proclaim this month for the heart (the physical one not the emotional one) to raise awareness of heart disease and what can be done to prevent it.

The statistics are staggering. Cardiovascular diseases, including things like stroke, kill more Americans than anything else. Heart disease is our nation’s No. 1 cause of death, and when we look at what heart disease does in Alabama, the numbers seem to get even worse.

Heart disease also is the leading cause of death in Alabama, accounting for almost a third of all deaths in our state. When you add death caused by stroke, the numbers go even higher. There is no great mystery why heart disease claims so many here; we rank among the highest in the country for risk factors that lead to heart disease.

Almost one-third of us have high blood pressure, more than one-third have high blood cholesterol. Almost a quarter of Alabamians smoke, almost two-thirds of us are overweight, and one in 10 suffers from diabetes. It is these kinds of grim risk factors that drive heart disease in our state.

What may be surprising to many is that heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 killer of women in Alabama, accounting for 35.5 percent of all female deaths.The epidemic among women has reached such proportions that on average 23 women die from heart disease and stroke in Alabama each day.  That is why raising public awareness of heart disease and its prevention is so critical.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has been doing its best with limited resources to combat the problem and raise public awareness.

The Alabama Cardiovascular Health program has been working with emergency first responders to improve the response to cardiovascular incidents, along with updating things like stroke protocols.

The CVH program has looked to support heart-healthy activities for prevention among Alabama businesses with more than 200 employees. More than 100 workplaces requested information, and toolkits to assist employees to make changes were sent. The program then was followed up by a Healthy Alabama Worksites Workshop with participation from companies across the state.

Yet, when it is all said and done, it is up to us to combat and prevent heart disease. If you smoke or know someone who smokes, quitting is the best thing that can be done to prevent heart attacks. Regular checkups and getting our cholesterol under control through diet, and medication if needed, is another concrete and valuable step in prevention. And any kind of exercise, like a simple walk after dinner, is another critical piece for cardiovascular health.

When it is all said and done, we want ourselves and our loved ones around for Valentine’s days now and in the future. The No. 1 risk to that future is heart disease. In Alabama, life and death are a matter of the heart.