Friendly reminder: Valentine’s Day is less than a week away, so make sure to order flowers and pick up one of those heart-shaped boxes full of chocolates for your sweetie. But Valentine’s shouldn’t be the only reason hearts are on your mind this month.

February is American Heart Month and, according to the American Heart Association, about 2,300 people die of cardiovascular disease every day in the United States. That’s about one every 38 seconds.


Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S., in Maryland and in Carroll County, among both men and women. In fact, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, both men and women in Carroll have a higher incidence rate for heart disease and stroke than the state or national averages.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, significantly increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, and at least one in three Maryland adults have it, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Unfortunately, there are no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, so many don’t realize they have it.

In November, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association published new recommendations for lower “normal” blood pressure in order to help prevent heart disease and stroke. Previously, blood pressure below 140/90 was considered acceptable, but the new guidelines define hypertension as any blood pressure greater than 130/80.

The American College of Radiology and the American Heart Association earlier this month set the first new comprehensive set of blood pressure guidelines since 2003.

The hope is that the new recommendations will encourage conversations among patients and their doctors about blood pressure screening and management.

But you don’t necessarily need a doctor’s appointment to find out if your blood pressure is high. Later this month, Carroll Hospital is partnering with the Hill Y in Westminster to offer a Zumba Heart Party on Friday, Feb. 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. and a Heart Health Talk on Thursday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Beyond free blood pressure screenings at both, these two events also offer an opportunity to learn more about heart health and other activities. Both events are free but you must register in advance. (Call 410-871-7000 for the Zumba party and 410-848-3660 for the health talk, and visit www.carrollhospitalcenter.org/heart for more information about both events.)

For those who do have high blood pressure, the good news is that you can lower it — and your risk of cardiovascular disease — with lifestyle changes that include consuming less dietary sodium and more potassium, getting more exercise and losing a few pounds. For those with a higher risk, a doctor may be able to prescribe medications that can also help.

About 80 percent of cardiovascular disease deaths can be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And February is a great time to get educated about your risk factors, including potentially high blood pressure, to lower your own risk of heart disease.