Here’s to Heart Month 

This year, PCNA celebrates our 30th anniversary—and we also observe the 60th anniversary of Heart Month. Each February, Heart Month compels us to focus a little more on heart health, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and what each of us can do to help prevent and more effectively manage this ongoing health crisis.  

There is still much work to be done. Globally, CVD-related deaths increased from 12.4 million in 1990 to 19.8 million in 2022i—and CVD continues to contribute to disability and skyrocketing health costs. 

There is hope. Many factors for reducing CVD risk are modifiable on a personal and larger (community- and policy-based) scale. During Heart Month and every day, what we do as cardiovascular nurses truly makes a difference.  

a nurse making a heart with her hands

Starting Early: Primordial Prevention 

Primordial prevention is preventing risk factors from developing in the first place. This typically happens early in life, helping children and adolescents develop heart-healthy behaviors such as healthy eating, exercise/activity, and not smoking/vaping.  

Preventing the development of risk factors is a family endeavor. Focusing on the attitudes and behaviors of parents, in turn, influences their children and other family members. 

Stop smoking campaigns and resources help not only an individual but also the individuals with whom they live. It is well-established that exposure to secondhand smoke, even for a limited time, can cause harmful health effects such as coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory issues, lung cancer, and even premature death.ii 

Another example includes healthy eating.  While social influences from peers, school, and media can affect a child’s diet, parents and family have a significant impact.iii When parents involve children in food preparation or make more healthy options available at home, a child eats more fruits and vegetables.iv By encouraging families to plan and eat healthy meals, the health of both parents and children can be positively affected. 

a father teaching his  two children how to cook and enjoy heart healthy food

Parents’ attitudes and physical activity level can also affect a child’s attitude towards activity and their physical fitness.v Support of increased physical activity for parents can also translate to more activity for their children and family, a reduced risk for developing CVD risk factors, and long-term healthy habits instilled in children, which can positively impact them throughout life. 

Learn more about primordial prevention from former AHA President Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, FAHA, in a podcast episode

Time for a Change: Secondary Prevention 

While we may lament not having started earlier in preventing risk factors from ever starting, even small changes now can make a big difference in those who are at increased risk for developing CVD or stroke. 

Research continues to expand on how healthy habits can impact aging, including cardiovascular health, but it has been demonstrated that healthy diets, regular activity, and reducing loneliness are vastly important. It is also critical to control risk factors such as diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and others.  

friends socializing and playing pickleball to support their health

For individuals for whom healthy eating has not been a focus, initiating healthy habits may aid in healthy aging. For example, a study on protein intake in middle-aged female nurses indicated that dietary intake of protein—especially plant protein—increased the odds of healthy aging, with the absence of major chronic illness, good mental health, and no cognitive or physical You can learn more about helping your patients with PCNA’s Behavior Change Mini-Certificate

Helping patients understand the importance of taking their medications and ensuring adherence may be challenging. You can also find information about disease states and their management on PCNA’s patient education resources site. These digital and print tools reinforce information covered in a clinical visit and are an excellent support method for patients, their families, and caregivers. 

It is Never Too Late: Tertiary Prevention 

For individuals who have already experienced a cardiac event such as a myocardial infarction or stroke or had surgery such as a cardiac catheterization or the implantation of a pacemaker or other device, it is not too late to see the positive impacts of heart-healthy interventions. Along with lifestyle modifications, the use of medications assists patients in reducing their risk for further events or other impacts.  

A person taking medication as well as eating heart healthy food

You can help your patients with resources on topics such as Leaving the Hospital After Your Heart Attack: What you Need to Know, Chronic Kidney Disease and Heart Health Screening Tool, Enjoying Life While Managing Heart Failure, and others on the PCNA website. 

Looking at the Large Scale: Advocacy for Heart Health 

While the examples thus far have included personal efforts to improve heart health, there are also large-scale endeavors that can make a more global impact on heart health and to which cardiovascular nurses and other healthcare professionals can contribute. 

One example is air pollution and its impact on heart health. Tiny particles of solids or liquids in the air are linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and heart disease.vii Check out Million Hearts for information and resources for clinicians and patients. 

Smoking (and use of tobacco products in any form) is a well-known cause of CVD and other diseases. While local and regional smoking bans have made a difference in some areas, tackling this issue at a large scale will be necessary to ensure that all individuals are at reduced risk. Information about addressing this issue is available at sources such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Harvard School of Health

You can get involved in community efforts close to home or in campaigns to change national or international policies. Learn more about getting involved in PCNA’s advocacy efforts, and read the American Heart Association’s Jan. 2024 policy statement on Addressing Structural Racism Through Public Policy.  

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