Our Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program, in the Bureau of Tobacco & Chronic Disease, encourages everyone to make every month heart month. During one of the most visible months we wanted to focus on a not-so-visible threat, hypertension. Also known as high blood pressure, this is a major risk factor for heart disease; the number one cause of death among Arizonans.

Almost a third of Arizonan’s surveyed stated that had been told they have hypertension. Hypertension can cause permanent damage to the heart before you notice any symptoms. This is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer.” It is estimated that half of those with hypertension don’t even know they have it. Just as serious is that almost half of Americans do not take their medication as directed, placing them at a much higher risk for a heart attack. Check out this great video about hypertension medication adherence!

This is why we always recommend that you know your numbers and manage your risk factors. Your age, blood pressure, cholesterol level, weight, and other risk factors all paint a picture of your health. Heredity and age also play a major factor, so knowing your family history is an important baseline. There are things you can do to lessen the risk like quitting smoking, and increasing your physical activity or eating more healthy foods. Go to your doctor, ask questions and be prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes.

Also, get to know the signs and symptoms of a heart in trouble and you may save your own or someone else’s life. These may include chest pain; discomfort in other areas like your arms, back, neck or stomach; shortness of breath; or other signs like nausea or lightheadedness. Call 9-1-1 if you have any doubts. A trip in an ambulance will get you treatment sooner than driving yourself or a loved one. Every second counts and can increase the likelihood of survival.

It all starts with an individual commitment to your own health through knowledge of your own risk factors, conversations with your physician, adherence to medications and a healthy lifestyle, and making your heart month a year-round activity!