February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is a big health issue for everyone, even for people without lupus. But when you have lupus, you have a higher chance of developing heart disease than people without it. This information is not intended to make you sad during a month usually associated with romance and love. Rather, it is meant to empower you, so you can recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone else.
The heart and the lining around the heart can both become inflamed because of lupus and cause chest pain and shortness of breath. It is important to know that the lungs can also become inflamed. Both show similar symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath. Another common heart condition experienced by people with lupus is coronary heart disease or atherosclerosis – meaning that the arteries responsible for bringing blood and oxygen through the body harden, narrow and clog, making it harder for the blood to flow smoothly which can lead to a heart attack and stroke.
Taking steps toward good health are ways that help us to feel in control of our bodies. And with a chronic illness like lupus, it is easy to feel like your body has more control of you than you do. Here are some ways you can help your heart:
Be prepared for a crisis:
- Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. I know this sounds scary, but you could save your own life by recognizing the signs of a medical crisis and knowing how to act in such a situation. If you think you are having a heart attack, don’t hesitate because you’re not sure. First, call 9-1-1. They will send an ambulance and can advise you on what to do meanwhile. It is safer to go to the hospital by ambulance than by car. In the ambulance, medical professionals will help you until you get to the hospital. And you will likely get treated more quickly when you arrive.
Don’t ignore new symptoms:
- Keep track of any new symptoms, especially chest pains or shortness of breath. I always suggest keeping a written list of symptoms, not just a mental list. I also encourage you to alert your doctor to new symptoms. Your doctor might want you to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later, or get medical treatment right away at an urgent care office or emergency room.
Everyday habits for heart health:
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is associated with both heart and lung disease.
- Get regular exercise – like walking, restorative yoga, or aquatics. Ask your doctor what exercise you should be doing and any limitations you need to keep in mind.
- Keep your cholesterol at healthy levels.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Manage other chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Keep your medical appointments and take medicine as prescribed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even more suggestions, including tips on how to achieve the steps outlined above. I encourage you to read their article and even print it out and keep it on your refrigerator as a regular reminder.
As you can see many of these suggestions not only lead to a healthy heart, but to overall good health. The body is a system. Everything is connected. Keeping one organ healthy could help keep the rest of you healthy. So, happy Valentine’s Day and enjoy taking good care of yourself! You certainly are worth such affection.