Cardiovascular disease is the nation's No. 1 killer and a major cause of disability.

With February being American Heart Month, this article hopes to raise awareness about the prevalence, severity and symptoms of heart disease.

For example, there are many individuals in the world who can no longer work because of coronary heart disease (including heart attack), stroke, high blood pressure and heart failure - the four most common types of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

About every 25 seconds, an American will experience a coronary event, and about every minute one person will die. Although not always fatal, coronary events often have a lasting affect on an individual's ability to return to work.

The Social Security Administration defines a cardiovascular impairment as any disorder that affects the proper functioning of the heart or the circulatory system (arteries, veins, capillaries and the lymphatic drainage). The disorder can be congenital or acquired.

A partial list of cardiovascular impairments that may be severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity includes:

Chronic heart failure - the inability of the heart to pump enough oxygenated blood to body tissues; Ischemic heart disease - when one or more coronary arteries is narrowed or obstructed; Peripheral vascular disease - generally, any impairment that affects either the arteries (peripheral arterial disease) or the veins (venous insufficiency) in the extremities, particularly the lower extremities, or an arrhythmia - a change in the regular beat of the heart. The heart may seem to skip a beat or beat irregularly, very quickly (tachycardia), or very slowly (bradycardia).

A documented medical history of at least three months of observations along with evidence that, with few exceptions, the condition has been present, or is expected to be present, for a continuous period of at least 12 months, is usually necessary for a successful application.

The effects of heart disease can be life-changing, but you can take steps to reduce your risk by following CDC recommendations to eat a healthy diet low in trans fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium, and getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity a week, along with muscle strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups two or more days a week.

Being able to recognize signs of heart attack and stroke also is valuable. The sooner a person gets medical attention, the better the outcome.

Heart attack warning signs include (provided by the CDC)

Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back.

Feeling weak, lightheaded or faint.

Chest pain or discomfort.

Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.

Shortness of breath.

Stroke warning signs include (provided by National Stroke Association):

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

Sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Take the time during American Heart Month to consider lifestyle changes that could improve your quality of life, reduce your risk of heart disease, and empower you to take action in case of a heart attack or stroke.