During February's observance of "American Heart Month," allow me to share a personal story.
I have had the misfortune to suffer both heart disease and a stroke, and the good fortune to have survived both.
With regard to heart disease, I cannot over-emphasize the need to recognize chest discomfort as a warning sign.
In my case, I would feel what I characterize as a "twinge" in my chest during physical exertion, such as yard work. When I rested, the sensation abated, only to reappear when I resumed work.
I likely would have ignored the sensation, but I had a routine doctor's visit scheduled and I reported my experience.
My physician listened attentively and arranged a visit with a cardiologist, who scheduled a cardiac catheterization. While undergoing that procedure, the severity of my condition was revealed, a surgeon was located and a triple-bypass was performed immediately.
After the surgery, I learned I could have suffered a massive, perhaps fatal, heart attack - all the result of a periodic "twinge."
My good fortune is the bypass prevented heart damage from an attack. And, eight years after the surgery, my test results continue to show normal cardiovascular function.
Although I experienced only chest discomfort, the American Heart Association (AHA) advises that sensation may be accompanied by lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
Other warning signs of a heart attack include:
• Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
• Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms.
My stroke occurred while I was asleep, so I experienced no warning signs.
When it happened in 2000, I was not aware of those signs, so I may not have heeded them even if I had experienced them. Today, I know the AHA's stroke warning signs, which include:
• Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body.
• Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye.
• Loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech.
• Sudden, severe headaches with no apparent cause.
• Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the previous symptoms.
Statistics about cardiovascular disease, the nation's No. 1 killer, could fill volumes.
The most important information, however, is how to prevent heart disease and how to recognize warning signs.
Prevention is summed up in seven simple steps. They are: get active, eat better, manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, lose weight and stop smoking.
Beyond that, listen to your heart.
The warning signs of cardiovascular disease may be severe or mild. Only you know when you are experiencing an unusual sensation, even if it's just a "twinge."