By Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC
You’ve heard about how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent heart disease. This means eating a nutrient-dense, healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, getting physical exercise every day (a sedentary lifestyle is the enemy of heart health), making sure you get enough sleep and controlling stress effectively. You know this is easier said than done, but you shouldn’t overcomplicate it either.
For example, ensuring that you eat well may just require tweaks, like planning your meals, opting to buy fewer processed foods, cutting your soda intake, and staying well-rested might mean keeping tech gadgets out of the bedroom and adhering to a bedtime that ensures that you get the amount of sleep recommended for adults, which is 7 to 9 hours per night. And there’s no need to become a triathlete in order to get the recommended 30 minutes per day of physical exercise. This might mean a brisk walk with the dog, a bike ride or even a fun dance session with the family. Interestingly, all of these factors contribute to keeping stress under control, as well as mindfulness practices like meditation and keeping in close connection with family and friends.
Heart health is something you should always be sure to discuss with your primary care physician at your annual wellness exam. If your doctor advises that you get tested and screened for a certain condition, we are here to help. Fortunately, TRH’s heart services include stress testing, which assesses how well your heart does as your body works. The test is typically done on a treadmill and as you exert yourself, your clinician observes how efficiently your blood pumps through your arteries to your heart. Another test we offer is the echocardiogram, a detailed ultrasound image of the heart that allows your doctor to assess how well your heart is pumping and beating. TRH also offers the Holter monitor as a diagnostic tool to patients, which is a small portable external device that monitors heart rate and heart rhythm for 24 hours.
If a community member suffers from heart disease and has experienced a cardiac event, like a heart attack or an angioplasty procedure, which opens clogged heart arteries, we also offer cardiac rehab, a program that educates patients on how best to prevent another heart problem through lifestyle practices like diet, exercise and stress management, along with closely supervised physical exercise opportunities for patients, and an opportunity for participants to support each other. Cardiac rehab is highly customized for each patient.
As much as we know about heart health, there are discoveries being made every day about how the heart works, preventing heart disease, diagnostic developments and treatment breakthroughs. In this spirit, I also wanted to present five things you might not know about heart disease. The more informed we can be about self-care and symptoms, the better off we’ll be:
- Heart attack symptoms can look different — and more subtle — in women. Although they suffer classic symptoms like men do, such as chest tightness and shortness of breath, women also report unique symptoms like neck, jaw and back pain, unusual fatigue, dizziness and nausea.
- It’s more important to get your annual flu shot if you have heart disease. Having heart disease makes it harder to combat the flu and if you get the flu, it can actually exacerbate your heart disease. Then you’re at higher risk for a heart attack, so this is yet another good reason to never skip your flu shot.
- Your emotions have great impact on your heart. We talk a lot about stress management, which is important in keeping your heart healthy, but those who suffer from depressive disorders are, on average, 64 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease. Exercise, staying connected with friends and family, and seeking counseling and medication for these conditions are all effective tools for lowering depression and the risk for heart disease.
- Atrial fibrillation (afib) is a common heart condition where an irregular heartbeat leads to the pooling of blood in the heart, which raises the risk of a clot forming and traveling to the brain, resulting in a stroke. If you have afib, talk to your doctor about your stroke risk.
- Your oral health and your heart health are intertwined. It may seem unlikely, but periodontitis, or gum disease, increases your risk for heart disease. The bacterial infection develops when you don’t practice good oral hygiene for a lengthy period. The infection can move into the blood stream, spread throughout the body and damage your heart valves. The good news is that regular dental checkups and brushing and flossing daily prevent any of this from happening.
Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and the more you know about your own health, the more successful you will be in working with your doctor to do all you can to support your heart’s health. Physicians specializing in cardiology are available through Asheville Cardiology. The clinic is located here on the hospital’s campus.
TRH is committed to helping our community learn about heart health, doing all we can to help our neighbors prevent heart disease and treating our patients not just specifically for a cardiac event, but long after, which is where our commitment to cardiac rehab originates.
Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital.