Hearts naturally come to mind in February with Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, but let's talk about the heart that keeps our bodies alive.

Hearts naturally come to mind in February with Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, but let's talk about the heart that keeps our bodies alive.

Coronary heart disease is America's No. 1 killer. Stroke is No. 3 and a leading cause of serious disability. That's why it's so important to reduce your risk factors, know the warning signs, and know how to respond quickly and properly if warning signs occur.

Heart attack warning signs

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, like the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.   Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.   Shortness of breath. This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.   Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

If you or someone you're with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait longer than a few minutes (no more than five) before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. The staff also are trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. You'll also get treated faster in the hospital if you come by ambulance.

If you can't access the emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. If you're the one having symptoms, don't drive yourself, unless you have absolutely no other option.

Stroke warning signs

The American Stroke Association says these are the warning signs of stroke:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body   Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding   Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes   Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination   Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

If you or some with you has one or more of these signs, don't delay. Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical services number so an ambulance can be sent for you. Also, check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

It's very important to take immediate action. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

Cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest strikes immediately and without warning. Here are the signs:

Sudden loss of responsiveness. No response to gentle shaking.No normal breathing. The victim does not take a normal breath when you check for several seconds.No signs of circulation. No movement or coughing.
Contact the McPherson County Extension Office at 620-241-1523, or check our website, www.ksre.ksu.edu