| 02 Mar 2015 | 04:26

    as the leading cause of death among new yorkers, heart disease presents a serious health concern for residents of the big apple. according to a report from new york city's department of health, nearly 22,000 deaths were caused by heart disease in 2006. in observance of american heart month this february, the nyc community-including the north general hospital in harlem-is taking initiatives toward the treatment and prevention of heart disease.

    "sometimes, there are no obvious symptoms of heart disease. you might have high blood pressure and not even know it. then, you end up having a heart attack or a stroke, or your kidneys can fail," said guedy arneilla, head of community outreach at the north general hospital in harlem. "we want to give people more opportunity to become aware of these risks."

    heart disease refers to a number of health problems that might affect one's cardiovascular health. the term includes heart-related afflictions such as coronary artery disease (cad), heart failure and heart arrhythmias.

    among these, cad is the most common type of heart disease. this condition causes the arteries to harden and narrow and thereby affects the amount of blood that is able to reach the heart. if left untreated, cad can lead to serious problems such as angina-chest pain or discomfort due to insufficient blood flow to the heart-or heart attacks.

    though heart disease affects both men and women of all ethnicities, there are some factors that put an individual at greater risk. according to the u.s. department of health and human services, women tend to experience more severe heart attacks-nearly twice as many women than men suffered from heart attacks that resulted in death.

    this same report also showed that african-american and latina women in particular have higher tendencies toward heart disease. other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, advancing age, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and the use of tobacco.

    in order to raise awareness and facilitate prevention, the north general hospital in harlem, in conjunction with the american heart association (aha), is holding a proud to go red program that offers free screenings throughout the month of february. the screenings include tests for blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels-all of which may indicate one's risk of heart disease.

    the program started last week with a feb. 6 kickoff for aha's national wear red day. on that day, thousands of people across the country, including employees at over 3,000 companies, community organizations and north general hospital, wear red to support the cause. this program will continue the three following fridays: feb. 13, 20 and 27.

    other measures taken by the nyc department of health and mental hygiene to reduce the rates of heart disease include its efforts to reduce smoking, lower salt levels in processed foods and restaurant menu items, and promote physical activity through the creation of special programs and walking trails. throughout the month of february and onward, heart disease will remain on the city's health agenda as it is among the 10 priority health areas addressed by take care new york, nyc health policy. -- for more information about north general hospital's proud to go red program, contact the north general hospital at 212-423-4000 or visit their website at