Blog Post

Knowing Your Heart Risk Factors

February 23, 2022

Michelle Wolfe, BSN, RN, RCIS Freeman STEMI Coordinator
February isn’t just about love. February is also American Heart Month, which reminds us to take care of our hearts and consider our risk factors.

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the US and accounts for more than 15,000 deaths in Missouri each year.

Everyone is at risk for heart disease. Some risk factors are beyond your control, such as age or family history. Others, like blood pressure and cholesterol, often can be controlled through lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) and/or medication. 

The term “heart disease” includes several heart conditions. The most common is coronary artery disease, which occurs when the coronary arteries, that supply blood to the heart, become narrowed and blocked by plaque. Plaque may also rupture and cause blood clots that can block arteries. Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack.

Heart attacks may happen suddenly, but many people have warning signs, sometimes up to a month before.

You should be familiar with the following warning signs so you can recognize a heart attack early and get help right away:

  • Discomfort/pain in center of chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
  • Discomfort in arm(s), back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness
  • Pain/pressure that occurs with exertion and is relieved with rest

Symptoms vary between men and women. Chest pain remains the most common heart attack symptom, but women are more likely than men to experience some of the other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

For a serious type of heart attack called ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), rapidly administering specific therapies can reduce the risks of complications and death. Reopening the blood vessel as soon as possible decreases the amount of damage that is done to the heart muscle.

Freeman West Hospital is designated as a Level I STEMI Center. This means Freeman has a consistently proven plan and record of dealing with every aspect of STEMI. Freeman is one of only 18 hospitals in Missouri to be classified under the top-level designation. The designation is part of the state’s Time Critical Diagnosis System, which identifies hospitals specially equipped to treat STEMI, stroke and trauma patients and improves both the speed and quality of care.

Freeman also received the 2021 Mission: Lifeline NSTEMI Gold Recognition Award and 2021 Mission: Lifeline® STEMI Receiving Center Silver Plus Achievement Award from the American Heart Association. Freeman is one of only 212 hospitals nationwide to receive the American College of Cardiology NCDR Chest Pain – MI Registry Platinum Performance Achievement Award for 2020. Freeman is rated #1 in its market by CareChex® Patient Safety rating for heart attack treatment and vascular surgery.

Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute provides all cardiac services in one convenient location. Services include preventive care, emergency interventions, diagnostics, open-heart surgeries, structural heart clinic, rehabilitation, cardiology clinics and education.

To learn more about Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute, visit