A serious injury to or death of a farm’s owner sets off a chain of events that can be devastating if the business and family aren’t prepared. In too many cases, it can lead to the farm exiting the industry altogether. That’s among the reasons why it is so important for dairy farm families to practice safety standards on the farm.

It is equally as critical for dairy farmers to monitor their personal health to avoid tragedy caused by conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. It is often caused by high blood pressure, which affects more than 100 million American adults. However, many of those individuals don’t know they have high blood pressure, giving heart disease its moniker as the “silent killer,” said Michelle Seekford during a webinar put on during National Farm Safety and Health Week.

Seekford founded and is a family nurse practitioner at her clinic in Virginia, where she regularly discusses heart disease with her rural clients. On top of heart disease’s already staggering statistics, she cited that adults in rural areas have a 19% higher risk of developing heart failure than urban residents. The Southeast, where risks are even greater, is known as the “Stroke Belt.”

In men, heart disease may present as chest pain, a fluttering feeling in the chest, shortness of breath, or with other symptoms. One in every four male deaths in 2023 were related to heart disease, Seekford said.

Heart disease is even a bit more dangerous for women. Over 60 million women have some form of the disease, Seekford noted, and it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. Among deaths from high blood pressure, 51.9% are women, and 57.5% of stroke deaths are in women. Additionally, women sometimes do not present symptoms when they’re having a heart attack, or they may be seemingly minor issues like pain in the neck, jaw, or back. “The presentation of a heart attack in a woman is so different than a man,” Seekford described.

What can we do?

Heart disease is impacted by things we cannot control like our family history, age, race, and gender. But some of the leading risk factors for high blood pressure are things we can affect: diet, physical activity, stress levels, tobacco and alcohol use, and weight. To fight elevated blood pressure, Seekford recommended eating a heart-healthy diet, limiting alcohol and tobacco, doing at least a few hours of exercise each week, and working to limit chronic stress.

She also advised everyone to know their blood pressure numbers. You can invest in an at-home blood pressure machine to take daily readings if you and your doctor have that discussion. Blood pressure rises earlier and more quickly in women. Be alert for signs of high blood pressure, especially because they can be passed off as something else — fatigue, bloating, dizziness, or headaches can all indicate high blood pressure.

Taking steps that put their own physical health first is not always easy for farmers. Doing laborious work is not the same as exercising, there might not always be time for the healthiest meals or sufficient sleep, and stress is often present. But doing what is possible in these areas can be the difference between a farm — and family — continuing in the dairy world or not. Heart health matters, and it starts with the knowledge we have and choices we make, Seekford summarized.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
September 28, 2023

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