February is for the heart.
It’s Valentine’s Day season, when we’re besieged with images of love, cupid’s arrows, and heart-shaped everything. Whether we want to or not, it’s a time when we receive messages about our hearts, in the romantic sense.
So it’s not a coincidence that the Powers That Be who choose seasonal observations picked this month to educate people about our hearts, in the biological sense. February is American Heart Month, and also the month for the American Heart Association’s signature initiative for women’s heart health, “Go Red for Women.”
Heart disease remains the number one killer of American men and women, leading to one in four deaths in the United States. The goal of American Heart Month is to spread awareness about healthy choices that can help prevent heart disease, including smarter food choices and increased physical activity.
But there’s another risk to heart health that has been steadily growing: opioid addiction.
A recent study, 22 years in the making, has found that the opioid epidemic and IV drug use has fueled an alarming rise in strokes. Infections known as bacterial endocarditis can be caused by dirty or shared needles; when injected into the bloodstream they can enter the brain and lead to a massive stroke.
Decades ago, bacterial endocarditis used to be common in patients who had childhood rheumatic fever, a disease that is virtually extinct now.
"It used to be rare that we saw anybody with bacterial endocarditis-related stroke," said Dr. Carl McComas, a neurologist at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Virginia, to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Now we see one at least every week.”