Cheers and jeers for American meat industry – National Consumers League

It’s been a month of cheers and jeers for the American meat industry. The good news? According to a recent study by the American Meat Institute Foundation, meat producers have significantly reduced listerosis outbreaks, a foodborne illness, by sharing effective food safety practices and research within the industry. The bad news? Where to begin?

Earlier in the month, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) internal watchdog released a scathing report of the Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) inspection of pork slaughterhouses. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) made three key discoveries: many slaughter plants are committing the same food safety violations again and again; more than 25 percent of the plants visited did not examine the internal organs of the carcasses after processing; and OIG witnessed widespread mishandling of animals. The companies, which routinely flouted food safety rules, did so at no consequence as Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) failed to use the aggressive enforcement actions – suspensions and withholding the mark of inspection – available to them. Also, plant workers have replaced FSIS inspectors on the inspection lines. They have received little guidance or training. And, as a result, many have failed to inspect the carcasses’ internal organs, thereby eliminating the possibility of detecting contamination. Finally, inspectors failed to report humane handling violations, further allowing the animal abuse.

What particularly concerns NCL is the report’s review of the pork slaughterhouse pilot program, which is remarkably similar to the poultry pilot program FSIS seeks to implement throughout the poultry industry. This is a program that NCL, along with a robust coalition of food safety and workers’ rights groups, has been fighting against. More specifically, the report describes the effects of the HAACP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), a pilot program that began in 1997 that increased line speeds – in other words, the speed at which the meat passes through human inspection—and reduced the number of FSIS inspectors in a handful of pork facilities.

This report raised a number of concerns with the program. First, the USDA failed to conduct a comprehensive review to gauge whether HIMP has increased food safety and plant efficiency as intended. Despite limited oversight, OIG was still able to identify major flaws with the inspection procedure. With three of the HIMP plants receiving most noncompliance reports (formal write-ups of food safety violations), the program may increase the potential for food safety risks. Even more alarming, inspectors failed to manually inspect the internal organs in which disease and contamination may lurk. Second, HIMP plants, which lack any formal agreements with FSIS, have greater flexibility than other plants. As a result, HIMP plants have faster production lines and fewer inspectors, limiting their ability to improve food safety and to comply with food safety regulations.

HIMP has also been piloted in poultry slaughterhouses, and FSIS plans to expand the program to all poultry plants. As in swine slaughterhouses, the program would increase the speed of the poultry line and replace FSIS inspectors with plant workers, who would not be required to receive any new training. Like many consumer advocacy groups, NCL is particularly concerned about this program’s extension. Workers would have a third of a second to examine the chicken, meaning contamination and defects could go undetected. It is not only a food safety issue, but also a worker safety issue. Faster line speeds mean a higher incidence of repetitive-motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, for slaughterhouse employees. And many of these workers, who are often new, undocumented immigrants, women and non-native English speakers, may be hesitant to speak up for fear of being fired or even deported.

Given the OIG’s findings in pork slaughterhouses, you may be wondering how USDA could even consider industry-wide HIMP implementation. Here at NCL, we are too. NCL’s conviction that implementing HIMP is a bad idea has now only deepened given the overwhelming evidence.

‘Double Check, Don’t Double Up’ on acetaminophen this cold and flu season

A bad cold or the flu can stop you in your tracks. Each year, Americans catch an estimated 1 billion colds, and up to 20 percent get the flu. And most of us turn to medicine to relieve symptoms; but it is important that you read the label on your medicines to check for acetaminophen and don’t double up.

After the first of the year, it seems like influenza (flu) season magically appeared, with a fierce intensity. Cases of flu are growing fast, and it is predicted that this season might be one of the worst in years.

More than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription medicines contain acetaminophen, including many for cough, cold and flu. It is the most common drug ingredient in America and can be in many prescription medicines taken by people who suffer from chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, or back pain. It can also be found in many different types of over-the-counter medicines taken by people with temporary conditions such as fever or aches and pains. Acetaminophen is safe and effective when used as directed but there is a limit to how much you can take in one day. Taking more than directed is an overdose and can lead to liver damage.

The National Consumers League is a member of the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition, which educates consumers and patients about how to use medicines containing acetaminophen appropriately and to help change behaviors that could lead to an unintentional acetaminophen overdose. The Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition’s Know Your Dose Campaign wants consumers to “double check” their medicine label so they don’t “double up” on medicines containing acetaminophen. If you take medicine to relieve cold or flu symptoms, check your medicine label to know if your medicine contains acetaminophen.

Know Your Dose is promoting four important steps for safe acetaminophen use:

  1. Check if your medicine contains acetaminophen
  2. Never take two medicines that contain acetaminophen at the same time
  3. Always read and follow the medicine label
  4. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines containing acetaminophen.

If you are wondering how to actually read the label on your medication, check out this interactive Drug Facts Label. Here you can find out where to look to see if your medicine contains acetaminophen.

Learn more at Follow the Campaign on Twitter @KnowYourDose.

Tracking food fraud – National Consumers League

For decades, NCL has tracked trends about the Internet and telemarketing scams plaguing consumers through its Fraud Center and But there’s another kind of fraud on the rise, and you’ll find it in your grocery store: food fraud.

While these types of fraud seem increasingly common, another, more invisible type of deception is also on the rise: food fraud. According to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a critically important entity protecting food and drug purity, the amount of fake ingredients has increased by 60 percent in the last year. Counterfeit foods range from lemon juice purporting to be “100% pure” to cheap oils, which are dyed and flavored for the purpose, being passed off as pricey extra virgin olive oil.

The motive behind food fraud is obvious: economic gain. When ingredients and the products they are used in become pricey, there is much money to be made by unscrupulous producers. These activities hurt the honest businessmen in the industry but can also potentially harm the consumer. When a product has been adulterated and those ingredients are not listed on the label, consumers, particularly those with food allergies, no longer have the ability to necessarily avoid those ingredients that pose a threat. For example, cheaper oils, such as hazelnut, palm and corn oil may be treated so that they can pass for live oil. This can prove a grave threat to those who are allergic to these products.

So, what can consumers do? Unfortunately, there aren’t foolproof steps to protect yourself from all food fraud. Less pricey categories of fish, for example, are often mislabeled as more expensive species. Even trained chefs, who handle the food every day, can be fooled and only DNA tests can reveal the substitution taking place. While there’s nothing a consumer can do to ensure they never consume a fraudulent food, there are some common sense steps they can take to mitigate the risk.

Here are some tips for savvy consumers:

  • If a price seems too good to be true, you just might be on to something. There’s a reason that particular brand costs less than all the others, and there’s a chance that reason is adulteration.
  • Pick brands that have a vested interest in keeping you as a consumer. They may have more of an incentive to stay honest.
  • When possible, buy raw ingredients rather than processed ones. For example, buy your own coffee beans to grind rather than buying ground coffee.
  • Speak out to your member of Congress, as well as the federal agencies, like the FDA, who work on these issues, know that food fraud is an important issue.

“Modernization” of poultry slaughter under fire

Now that the election is over, advocates in Washington, DC and the Obama administration can refocus their energy on pressing policy issues. One of the biggest issues facing the food safety community right now is the modernization of the food system. New rules meant to modernize poultry inspection has advocates from many areas concerned — is 1/3rd of a second enough to properly inspect a chicken? We don’t think so.

With the two-year anniversary of the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) approaching, this topic is foremost in the minds of many food safety advocates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has regulatory jurisdiction over meat and poultry, is also focusing on modernization. To this end, they have issued the proposed rule, “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection.” NCL has joined a diverse group of labor, food safety and good government groups in opposing this rule.

What does the rule do?

Since the passage of the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been responsible for carcass by carcass inspection in slaughter plants throughout the country. These inspectors are trained and, because they are employed by the government and not the plant, are assured job security regardless of whether they uncover issues at a plant. Under the proposed rule, many inspection duties would be reassigned to plant employees.

What worker safety concerns does this proposed rule present?

  • Aside from shifting inspection duties from government inspectors to plant employees, this proposed rule also allows for increases in line speed. While several inspectors currently man the slaughter line, the proposed rule will decrease their presence. The result is that while under traditional inspection each inspection looks at about 30 birds per minute, under the proposed rule each inspection would look at about 175 birds per minute. This means that he or she spends 1/3 of a second on each bird.
  • Under the new system, inspectors are also unable to look at the whole bird. This is a problem because fecal contamination, which often indicates the presence of foodborne illness, can often occur inside the bird as well as outside it.
  • While USDA claims that this proposal will decrease the prevalence of foodborne illness, in their own data analysis, they admit that the proposal’s impact on campylobacter, which is responsible for close to a million illnesses each year, is “ambiguous.”
  • Under the new system, plants will be allowed to create their own standards for testing of foodborne illnesses and other defects, such as scabs, feathers and bile. This means that checking how plants are doing in implementing this rule will become quite a challenge.

What food safety concerns does this proposed rule present?

  • While FSIS inspectors receive uniform training, the proposed rule does not mandate any specific training requirements for plant employees who would take over inspection duties. This is a concern both for food safety and for the workers themselves who may likely not be adequately prepared for their new responsibilities.
  • Even at much slower line speeds, the poultry slaughter industry is notorious for high rates of repetitive motion injuries. Advocates are concerned that increases in line speeds will only increase the rate of injury. Despite these widely raised concerns, the proposal has been advanced without the benefit of any comprehensive study of the impact of line speeds on worker injury.
  • Because many of those employed in the poultry industry are new immigrants or women, and because only around 30% of the industry is organized, these workers are particularly vulnerable. Will these workers, who depend on the plant for their job, be willing to speak up when they spot food safety problems?

Because of these concerns, NCL has joined with other leading groups to urge USDA to withdraw the rule until it can address the many concerns raised about both food and worker safety. If you eat chicken, or if you feed it to your children, you should be concerned about this rule too.

Latest on meningitis outbreak – National Consumers League

A multistate fungal meningitis outbreak has occurred among patients who received an injectable steroid. The New England Compounding Center (NECC) based in Farmingham, MA, distributed contaminated steroid medication, used in spinal epidural injections and to treat joint pain, to outpatient facilities across the country. Upwards of 14,000 patients have been exposed to these contaminated injections, resulting in 328 cases and causing 24 deaths across 23 states.

NCL has issued a statement calling for increased oversight on compounding pharmacies, in order to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Read it here>>>


Traditionally, drug compounding involved pharmacies preparing specific doses of approved medications based on guidance from a health care professional to meet an individual patient’s needs. However, in recent years compounding pharmacy companies are engaging in large scale manufacturing of prescription drugs. The compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the FDA, but at the state level.

In 2007 Senator Edward Kennedy introduced legislation – the Safe Compounding Drug Act – with two Republican senators – Burr (NC) and Roberts (KS) to establish protections for the public to ensure the safety of compounded drugs, but it faced opposition from the compounding pharmacy industry and was not passed.

What’s being done?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have taken steps to notify the public about this outbreak and potential exposures.

CDC Information:
FDA Information:

About the investigation

  • On September 26, 2012, three lots of steroid compound (methylprednisone acetate) were recalled by NECC due to contamination with a fungus.
  • Fungal meningitis is not contagious. This form of meningitis can not be passed from one person to another through contact; only individuals who received the contaminated injection are at risk for developing fungal meningitis.
  • The CDC continues to investigate the exact cause of the contamination, how many people have been exposed and how to best inform patients at risk.
  • For more information:

What is fungal meningitis?

  • Fungal meningitis occurs when the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord are infected with a fungus. Fungal meningitis is rare and usually caused by the spread of a fungus through blood to the spinal cord. The severity of meningitis and treatment varies depending on the cause of meningitis; it is important to know the source!

Monitoring for symptoms

  • Fungal infections take time to develop. Symptoms can be seen anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks after exposure. However, shorter and longer periods of time between receiving the injection and the onset of symptoms can occur. It is important to know the symptoms and monitor yourself and others, if you think you might be at risk. As always, contact your health care professional right away if you have any concerns or symptoms.

Symptoms of Fungal Meningitis [Adapted from the CDC].

If you had an epidural steroid injection since May 21, 2012, and have any of the following symptoms, see your health care professional as soon as possible (

  • New or worsening headache
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck
  • New weakness or numbness in any part of your body
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased pain, redness or swelling at your injection site

Symptoms of Joint Infection

Individuals who received injections for joint pain should monitor symptoms as the CDC is investigating possible contamination with these injections as well. If you have any of the following symptoms, see your health care provider as soon as possible:

  • Fever
  • Increased pain
  • Redness, warmth, or swelling in the joint that received the injection or at the injection site.

Where is the Outbreak?

Other Information Related to the Outbreak

Script Your Future: stories from the field – National Consumers League

NCL’s Script Your Future campaign is celebrating an exciting, successful year of bringing positive messages about the need for medication adherence to communities across the country. We’ve met many patients and health care professionals and heard how the campaign has touched them. Meet some of the faces of Script Your Future!



Maureen Lloy Groux is a clinical pharmacist for a major health system in Sacramento. Using medication counseling and the Script Your Future wallet card, she saved the life of a non-adherent heart patient. The patient had been off of his medication for 5 days when he came in for a refill, and after talking with Maureen and filling out a medication list Maureen convinced him to call his physician. Turns out the patient needed emergency surgery to insert a new stent. He lived, and actually came back to visit Maureen, telling her that he appreciated the importance of taking his medicine as directed.


Patti Pozella is a pharmacist and teaches courses at the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, with extensive personal experience motivating patients and prescribers to improve adherence. Patti is now using Script Your Future in her courses as an example of a well-executed, comprehensive and integrated campaign on a public health issue.


Bob S. had his first heart attack in 1998, after which he found himself suddenly on several different, complicated medications. After a frank discussion with his doctor about the importance of adherence, something clicked. “If I followed my doctor’s instructions and took my meds as prescribed, I could have many healthy years ahead of me.” In addition to volunteering with the American Heart Association and Mended Hearts, Bob shares his story with Script Your Future Rhode Island and continues to reach out to cardiac patients about the importance of talking with health care professionals and taking medication as directed.


Andrea Wall is a pharmacy professor and an associate dean at the University of Cincinnati’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. The School of Pharmacy supports the Script Your Future campaign, and its students have found the campaign’s materials useful, integrating them into their rotations and during outreach events. The experiential education faculty of the University recently voted to incorporate Script Your Future materials and messaging on medication adherence into its required activities when the students are on their clinical rotations.


Jackie Johnson is a Johns Hopkins nursing student. As co-chair of the Script Your Future Baltimore Student Coalition, Jackie has participated in numerous community health events to promote the campaign and often finds that the wallet medication cards serve as one of consumers’ most sought-after tools towards improving adherence. At the Bmore Health Expo in March, Jackie spoke with a patient who had undergone a heart transplant. The patient was extremely grateful to have the wallet card, which she felt would help her better manage the multiple medications that she will take for the rest of her life as a result of the transplant.


Patrick Devereux is an independent community pharmacist in the Birmingham area and a member of the Alabama Board of Pharmacy. When he began disseminating the wallet cards, one of his customers, Beverly W., told him “I’ve had a bad heart for nearly 20 years and need to take medications every day. I appreciate this campaign and the pledge cards because, for people like me, taking medications is a necessary part of life. I’ve never seen cards like this and think we should find ways to get them to everyone who picks up a prescription.”

Considering raw milk? Not so fast – National Consumers League

With the recent outbreak of foodborne illness — which has sickened at least 80 — caused by raw milk, more attention has been drawn to this contentious issue. Advocates of drinking raw milk claim that it has increased health benefits not available in milk that has been commercially pasteurized. With all the rhetoric surrounding the topic, it can be difficult for consumers to get a straight answer about raw milk. Here are some basic things you should know to make healthy decisions for you and your family.

What is raw milk?

The term raw milk refers to milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a processing step that involves heating milk in order to kill off any bacteria that may be living in it. These bacteria come from the cows that are milked, especially from feces.

Is raw milk legal?

The sale of raw milk across state lines is illegal throughout the United States. This means that it is not widely available. However, certain states do allow the sale of raw milk within their borders.

Is raw milk safe?

There are many risks to drinking raw milk. Pasteurization is an essential part of making conventional milk safe and has been so for decades. Without the benefit of pasteurization, bacteria which may be in milk are not killed and are given an opportunity to multiply and grow. Risk of foodborne illness is increased by the consumption of raw milk.

Does raw milk cause foodborne illness?

recent report from the CDC showed that raw milk contributes substantially to the burden of foodborne illness in this country. While raw milk accounts for only 1 percent of the total milk drunk in the US, it accounted for 73 of 121 dairy-related foodborne illness outbreaks between 1993 and 2006. Additionally, the report showed that illnesses from raw milk were more severe and resulted in higher rates of hospitalization.

Why do some people choose raw milk?

Given the dangers associated with raw milk, one might reasonably ask what the supposed benefits to drinking it are. Proponents claim that raw milk helps ameliorate a number of health conditions, such as asthma. Despite anecdotal support for this claim, no scientific studies have confirmed that raw milk confers additional health benefits. Furthermore, raw milk is nutritionally equivalent to pasteurized milk.

Our recommendations when it comes to raw milk? Drinking it means taking a gamble with your health, so we strongly recommend against it. Especially avoid giving raw milk to young children, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system.

Spring is in the air – achoo! – National Consumers League

Spring seems to be arriving earlier than ever this year, and — along with it — allergy season. As seasons change and rains bring budding trees, green lawns, and fields of flowers, millions of Americans are plagued with spring allergies. More than 35 million people in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis — and some may be surprised to learn it’s possible to develop allergies later in life as well. It is estimated that the work missed due to allergies amounts to $250 million annually. So, what’s an allergy sufferer to do?

Seasonal allergies often come in three forms: eye allergies (conjunctivitis), skin reactions (dermatitis), and the most common – allergic rhinitis. More than 35 million people in the United States suffer from allergic rhinitis, and it is estimated that the work missed due to allergies amounts to $250 million annually.

Pollen triggers

The first pollen triggers tend to come from tree pollen, especially in the northern parts of the country. Grass pollen tends to fill the air in late spring. Mold allergens emerge after the first thaw through the first frost, and peak in the late-summer throughout much of the United States.

If you are unsure of your allergy triggers, you can visit your primary care doctor or an allergist to have a skin test.  An allergy skin test is the quickest, cheapest, and most accurate way to determine what allergies you have.

Once you know your triggers, it is important to check the local pollen counts and to stay ahead of the triggers.  If you decide to treat your allergies with medication, you should ideally start your over-the-counter allergy regimen 1-2 weeks before the pollen season begins.

Allergy treatment: avoid pollen

There are many ways to treat allergies. One of the best ways is to avoid the pollen.

  • Keep windows and doors shut at home and in the car – pollen makes its way through screens and open spaces and into your carpeting, seats, and bedding.
  • Avoid peak pollen periods – try to avoid early- to mid-morning outdoor activity when pollen counts are highest.
  • Minimize pollen contact – if spending a lot of time outside, remove and wash clothes upon returning inside, try to rinse the pollen off your body with a shower, and even consider wearing a dust mask if spending a lot of time in a pollen-rich environment.
  • Be careful with pets who go outside – don’t let pets who play outside spend time on your couches or beds, as they will bring pollen with them.
  • Don’t hang laundry outside to dry – pollen will stick to clothes that have been hanging outside.

Hot, dry or windy days result in higher pollen counts and often spread the pollen beyond the source; rain helps lower pollen counts by washing it away.

Allergy treatment: medications

Seasonal allergies can also be treated with medications, usually OTC medications. The first step in treating allergic rhinitis is to use over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamines each morning. If you are still congested, try using a saline nasal rinse or an oral decongestant (talk to your doctor if you have high blood pressure).  Saline nasal rinses, when used 1-3 times daily, help reduce congestion and sinus drainage.

If you are unable to find relief through these treatments, talk to your doctor about other options, including corticosteroid nose spray.

You can also treat many allergy-related problems with simple over-the-counter remedies such as lozenges for sore throats and antihistamine drops for itchy, watery eyes.

Talk to your doctor

If you continue to feel badly, are unsure of your symptoms, or have questions about seasonal allergies, talk with your doctor or care team.

Watered-down lemon juice making advocates sour – National Consumers League

In a formal complaint to the Food and Drug Administration this month, NCL is urging the federal agency to stop the sale of four brands of “100%” lemon juice that were recently tested and found to be heavily diluted with water. NCL tested four products, each of which turned out to contain only a small amount of real lemon juice! 

  • “NaturaLemon 100% Lemon Juice from concentrate – Natural Strength” contains only about 35 percent lemon juice.
  • “Lira 100% Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains only about 25 percent lemon juice.
  • “Lemon Time Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains about only 15 percent lemon juice. The product states on its front label, “Contains 100% Lemon Juice with added ingredients.”
  • “Pampa Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains only about 10 percent lemon juice. The product states “Made with 100% Juice.”  The label also includes the statement “Natural Strength.”

Consumer advocates believe that these producers water down their products to lower production costs and increases profits. In the case of lemon juice, recent weather conditions have led to variability in the supply of fresh lemons —and lemons being harder to get has given unscrupulous producers incentive to dilute their products with water and add citric acid and sugars to compensate for flavor.

The label of NaturaLemon illustrates just how bad the problem is. The label indicates that the bottle contains the juice of 30 lemons! However, doing the math, the bottle is likely made with only the juice from 10 lemons. The incentive to cheat is obvious.

NCL has long been an advocate of truthful and honest labeling. Consumers who buy these brands think that they are getting 100 percent lemon juice, but in reality they are not getting what they have paid for. We hope that FDA or state officials will take action to ensure that these brands either clean up their act or are no longer sold in stores. Click here to read NCL’s complaint to FDA and view the laboratory tests we sponsored.

Love your ticker during American Heart Month – and year-round! – National Consumers League

Did you know that more than one in four deaths in the United States can be attributed to heart disease? There’s never been a better time for consumers to take a little time to recognize the leading cause of death in America and learn about protecting their own heart.

NCL’s Script Your Future campaign, which is raising awareness among patients – especially those with chronic conditions like heart disease – about the importance of following doctor’s orders and sticking to treatment regimes, has partnered with Million HeartsTM to spread the word about heart health this month.

The Million Hearts initiative was set up in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in recognition of the fact that heart disease is a silent killer in our communities. Its goal is to raise awareness of these facts and work to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. in five years. The Million Hearts initiative is focusing on promoting the interventions to reduce heart attacks and strokes – the ABCS:

  • Aspirin to prevent heart attacks for people who need it
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol management
  • Quitting Smoking

Heart Disease 4-1-1

Heart disease is an umbrella term used to describe several different types of heart conditions, including the more common coronary artery disease (which can cause a heart attack), angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.

Risk Factors

Anyone, including children, can develop heart disease. Nine out of ten heart disease patients have at least one risk factor, which can include both the uncontrollable and controllable.

Uncontrollable risk factors include:

  • family history (including race)
  • age
  • gender

Controllable risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • physical inactivity
  • obesity
  • diabetes


We are all familiar with the classic, as-seen-on-tv sign of a heart attack. Unfortunately, most heart attacks start slowly, with only mild pain or discomfort, which can lead to a devastating delay in treatment.

According to the American Heart Association, symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • 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 with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 9–1–1 immediately.


We have the power to reduce our risk for heart disease. We can take several steps to help keep the plaque from building up in our arteries and to keep our hearts healthy and strong.

According to the American Heart Association, our heart is healthiest when we meet the following seven health measures:

  1. never smoked or quit smoking more than one year ago
  2. healthy body mass index (BMI)
  3. regular physical activity – 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly
  4. blood pressure below 120/80
  5. fasting blood glucose less than 100 milligrams/deciliter, a fasting measure of blood sugar level
  6. total cholesterol of less than 200 milligrams/deciliter
  7. eating a healthy diet

The American Heart Association has developed My Life Check as a tool for consumers to use to improve their behavior and a healthier heart.

Screening and early detection

If you have any of the risk factors for heart disease, talk with your doctor often about your health and any symptoms you may have experienced or continue to experience. You and your doctor might decide it is appropriate for a chest x-ray, stress test, and/or a coronary angiography.


While there is no cure for heart disease, it can be treated. Some forms of treatment include:

  • lifestyle changes
  • medications
  • angioplasty
  • coronary bypass

Take the pledge

If you don’t take your medicine as directed, you’re putting your heart — and your health and future — at risk. If you have been diagnosed as having heart health issues, taking your medicine as directed is an important step toward a longer, healthier life. NCL and its partners have launched the Script Your Future campaign to educate consumers about the importance of following their healthcare treatment regimes and improving their health — and futures — by following doctors’ orders.

At, cardiovascular patients have a special section specific to their needs. You can create your own personal pledge, print it, and use it to remind yourself of all the reasons you have to stay healthy and to take your medicine. You can also get a wallet card to keep track of your prescriptions, as well as other tools — like text reminders — that help improve medication adherence.

Women and heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Women are more than five times as likely to die from heart disease as from breast cancer. In fact, nearly twice as many American women die from heart disease and stroke than from all types of cancer combined.

For many years, women were unaware that heart disease could affect them in the same way it could men. While more and more women now know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, too many still feel it can’t or won’t happen to them. Many more admit that living a healthy lifestyle – getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, eating healthy, etc. – can be a real challenge.

Though the risk for heart disease increases with age, women of all ages should be aware of and work to prevent heart disease.


The risk of heart disease is no longer just a concern for adults. With childhood obesity on the rise – 1 in 3 children and teens are overweight or obese, it is believed that for the first time in American history, the current generation of young people may live shorter lives than their parents. Adults need to lead by example and teach children how to develop healthy habits for life.

Some initiatives underway to help improve the health of America’s children and instill the skills for living a healthy life include:

  • We Can! – We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) is a national movement designed to give parents, caregivers, and entire communities a way to help children 8 to 13 years old stay at a healthy weight.
  • Let’s Move! – Let’s Move! has an ambitious but important goal: to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. Let’s Move will give parents the support they need, provide healthier food in schools, help our kids to be more physically active, and make healthy, affordable food available in every part of our country.
  • Play60 – The NFL PLAY 60 campaign is designed to tackle childhood obesity by getting kids active through in-school, afterschool and team-based programs, online child-targeted outreach on, and many partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Learn more about heart health

Blood thinners. Used to prevent clots from forming in the blood, blood thinners are often prescribed for patients who have a history of stroke, mechanical heart valves, or a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.

Cholesterol. High levels of bad cholesterol can significantly increase the risk of coronary events, such as heart attack and stroke.