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Observed throughout the month of February, American Heart Month offers health care providers and community leaders an opportunity to focus their efforts on improving cardiovascular health in their locales. Organizations across the country are taking on hypertension, addressing issues of equity in cardiovascular health and spotlighting the fight against heart disease — the number one killer of people in the U.S.
“It has never been more important for everyone to talk to their providers about their cardiac risk factors, social determinants of health and lifestyle," said Colleen Walsh-Irwin, DNP, RN, ANP-BC, AACC, FAANP and co-chair of the AANP Cardiology Specialty Practice Group. "Given the past two years, which has impacted the ability to access health care in a way never seen before, we need to get back on track with our screening tests and assessing our risk factors to prevent cardiac disease.”
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) is proud to stand by numerous partners in the health care field by sharing various resources, initiatives and information to help NPs improve the cardiovascular health of their patients.
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD), remains the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. One out of four deaths in the country can be attributed to CVD, which kills about 659,000 people every year. In fact, every 36 seconds, one person dies from heart disease in the U.S. Importantly, this tragic loss of life stems from a disease that is largely preventable.
To help combat the CVD epidemic in our country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have partnered together on a national initiative entitled Million Hearts®. Led by the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP), Million Hearts® aims to prevent 1 million avoidable CVD deaths in the next five years.
NPs can do their part to help achieve this goal by helping to build healthy communities, optimizing care and focusing on health equity. Utilizing Million Hearts® 2027 priorities, NPs can better the overall health of their patients by encouraging them to decrease tobacco use, physical inactivity and particle pollution exposure in their area. People with and at risk for CVD should also ask their NP about the ABCS of CVD prevention: Appropriate aspirin or anticoagulant use, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management and Smoking cessation. Those patients looking to improve their ABCS should ask about the possibility of undergoing cardiac rehabilitation programs to develop the skills and education needed for heart-healthy living.
Throughout the U.S., CVD, strokes and other risk factors for poor heart health are experienced disproportionately based on one’s race, ethnicity, geography and social determinants of health (SDoH). Understanding how these determinants can affect a patient’s quality of life by increasing financial stress, creating distrust in the health care profession, limiting access to care and segregating populations into unhealthy and unsafe communities is the first step to advance health equity and improve heart health.
Million Hearts® has assembled various tools and resources that NPs can utilize to increase health equity and cardiovascular health for everyone in their community. These resources support Million Hearts® goals of ensuring fair health care access to several populations, including pregnant and postpartum women with hypertension, people from minority groups, people with behavioral health issues who use tobacco, those with lower incomes and people who live in rural areas or other health care access deserts.
Start now by exploring this seminar on Race, Ethnicity, Hypertension and Heart Disease from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), learn how structural racism serves as a fundamental driver of health disparities in this call to action from the American Heart Association (AHA) and review the CDC’s CORE Health Equity Science and Intervention Strategy.
While hypertension affects nearly 1 in every 2 adults in the U.S., only 77% of these individuals are aware that they have hypertension and only about 1 in 4 people with hypertension have it under control. This fact was highlighted in the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Control Hypertension, which set forth three goals: Make hypertension control a national priority; ensure that the places where people live, learn, work and play support hypertension control; and optimize patient care for hypertension.
In response to these goals, Million Hearts® has released a one-page summary entitled Improving Hypertension Control and Cardiovascular Health: An Urgent Call to Action for Nursing. This summary helps to illustrate all the different ways in which professionals working in every sector of nursing can play a role to ensure hypertension control among their patients. NPs can help reduce the risk of CVD in their communities by diagnosing and treating hypertension, intensifying treatment as needed and assessing their patients’ risk of CVD in a timely manner. Additionally, NPs should consider attending the DHDSP National Hypertension Control Roundtable Member Orientation Webinar to take part in the national dialogue and help address the challenges that surround hypertension control.
Are you looking for more ways to answer the call this American Heart Month? Visit the Cardiology Clinical Resources page on the AANP website to access more tools and resources from AANP’s partners, join the Cardiology AANP Community and take cardiology-focused continuing education (CE) courses in the AANP CE Center. Members have exclusive access to AANP-developed tools and resources that are designed to keep you informed on important health issues and assist you in educating your patients.