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Cardiac care is topic of "Follow Your Heart" symposium

March 3, 2016

Cardiac care is topic of "Follow Your Heart" symposium

By SHANNON HARSH The Alliance Review -  Published: February 27, 2016 3:00 AM
A panel of experts was on hand to educate the community in honor of National Heart Month Thursday evening at the University of Mount Union's Presser Recital Hall.

The event, titled "Follow Your Heart," was sponsored by Aultman Heart Center at Alliance Community Hospital (ACH) and the health and medical sciences departments at Mount Union.

It began with a health fair that included free blood pressure checks given by students in the nursing and physician assistant programs.

Dr. Debra Lehrer, assistant professor of medicine at NEOMED and director of Palliative Care and Hospice at ACH, began with some heart basics, describing the work the heart does and reminding attendees that cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in women.

She said there are a long list of risk factors -- some we can't control, others we can -- that include: age (over 55), family history (especially parents and siblings), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, chronic kidney disease, smoking, menopause, stress, inflammation and other things like living a sedentary lifestyle.

She said to help reduce the risk, the first thing to do is to stop smoking, which is associated with half of all coronary events. She noted one Danish study showed smoking lowered the mean age of a heart attack from age 79 to 60. On the other hand, she said, those who stop smoking reduce their risk of coronary disease to that of a nonsmoker in only two to three years.

"It's difficult to quit smoking, but if you can do it you really increase your chance of living a longer, healthier life," she said.

Other modifiable risk factors include avoiding excess alcohol intake and keeping weight under control. She said the target body mass index (BMI) is 25. In America, she said only 31 percent of people have a healthy BMI, while 29 percent are overweight, 34 percent are obese and 6 percent are morbidly obese.

Lehrer said physchosocial factors, such as stress, also add to the risk and need to be managed.

She spent much of her talk on another big modifiable risk factor -- diet, suggesting five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables and 25 grams of fiber per day. She also stressed avoiding highly processed foods, red meats, things high in sugar and trans fats; and focusing on whole grains and the good fats like monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, oats and olive and canola oil, as well as polyunsaturated fats found in fish, soybean and corn oil and tofu.

Lehrer reminded the audience what a healthy plate looks like -- half vegetables, 1/4 lean protein and 1/4 starch -- and the importance of physical activity for 30 minutes five days a week, which could involve aerobic exercise, resistance training and stretching exercises.

Dr. John Prodafikas, an Aultman Medical Group Cardiovascular Consultants physician who also serves as medical director of the Aultman Heart Center at ACH, started his portion of the talk on an unlikely topic -- the effect psychosocial stress has on heart disease. He said how life in America has changed -- less family time, more hectic lives and more keeping up with the neighbors rather than getting to know them -- has led to psychosocial stress, which can be a big risk factor in cardiovascular disease.

He went over the statistics, showing what a problem heart disease is in America and stressed the importance of prevention. "Yes, this keeps me busy, but I don't want to be busy like this," he said. "People need to take control of their lives, turn it around and be healthy."

The cardiologist got into the medical side of the panel discussion, giving details about what happens when patients have heart disease. He said when it comes to heart attacks, time is muscle -- meaning the faster a patient gets help, the better chance the physicians have to not only reduce symptoms, but also to decrease the amount of damage done to the heart muscle and to preserve heart function.

"The fool is the person who stays home and has a heart attack," he said. "Nobody is going to think you're foolish if you go to the hospital for chest pains and it ends up not being a heart attack."

Prodafikas went over the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, turning the podium over to nurse practitioner Stacy Irwin, whose focus was on living with heart disease.

Irwin shared with the audience how patients are helped to manage heart disease through lifestyle modifications, medications, close follow-up care and education about self-care and stress management. She reiterated the importance of exercise, a heart-healthy diet, smoking cessation and properly taking medications. She mentioned the importance of daily aspirin for those who have been diagnosed with heart disease and spoke about the use of other medications.

When it comes to self-care, she said they work with patients on stress management and start them in cardiac rehabilitation -- an exercise program that is monitored by medical personnel. "It's a gradual way for them to start exercising and becoming active after the event," she described. "It provides them with comfort. A lot of patients are very frightened after a heart attack, and this provides them with (peace of mind)."

The panel entertained questions before the event concluded with several drawings.




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