Heart MonthFebruary is American Heart Month and is dedicated to raising awareness and increasing knowledge about heart disease, with the goal of preventing and treating heart disease across the US.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), heart disease is one of the most widespread and complicated health challenges in the US, killing about 650,000 Americans each year, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. There are several ways to prevent heart disease and live a healthy, active lifestyle that promotes your heart health.

Plus, below are five tips from the UAB Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery to ensure a healthy heart during recovery from a heart surgery.

1. Take your medications as directed. If you do not understand the directions, notify your provider or pharmacist as soon as possible. Medications help manage exacerbation of diseases. If you experience any side effects, it is important to let your provider know. Have an open and honest conversations with your physician about the impact of your medications. Keeping a journal that notates how you feel after taking medications can give your physician more insight into the impact of the medication. 

2. Make sure you have adequate supplies to keep your incisions clean and dry as instructed by the cardiothoracic surgery care team. If you are unable to obtain necessary supplies let your physician know as soon as possible.  

3. Exercise is great for the health of your heart. Plan your day to include multiple walks daily slowing increasing the distance over two weeks, unless otherwise directed by your provider. 

4. Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet allows your body to have the nutrients necessary to prevent and fight off diseases. It is important to maximize your vegetable and fruit intake. Junk foods filled with salt and sugar should be avoided as much as possible. 

5. Keep scheduled appointments to follow up post-surgery. Follow-up appointments allow your provider to monitor your recovery and provide critical changes to your care plan, if needed. They may also spot post-surgical complications, if any arise. If you have to reschedule a follow-up appointment, call ahead and ask your provider’s office about telehealth options, or next-available appointments if you must reschedule. Refrain from going months without consulting with your provider, especially if you experience any pains. 

After heart surgery, it is important to follow provider instructions for daily exercise and a balanced diet. Plus, you can make healthy changes to your lifestyle that greatly reduce your chances of undergoing further heart surgery. Always be sure to consult with your provider to learn more about the health and care of your heart.

For other ways to celebrate American Heart Month, visit this NIH webpage. If you would like to make an appointment with a UAB Medicine provider, please visit uabmedicine.org or call 800.UAB.8816.

Special thanks to Trina Smith, CRNP, and Stephanie Price, CRNP, for their help in developing this article.