The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 15, 2013

Maintaining heart health is a year-round job

Heart deaths spike in winter but a healthy lifestyle is your best defense

By Mark Huffman
ConsumerAffairs.com

— Researchers at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles have found that heart attack deaths are 36 percent higher during the winter months than in the summer. Just why is not exactly clear.

Researchers had always assumed the increase in winter heart attacks was due to over-exertions during cold weather activities, like shoveling snow. But this latest research shows a similar death rate in warm climates as well as cold.

Your best defense is a healthy heart all year round and in nearly every case, the power to improve heart health rests with the individual.

“When I tell people that almost 80 percent of heart disease is preventable, they are surprised,” said Mayo Clinic cardiologist Martha Grogan, M.D., medical editor-in-chief of Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life. “Better yet, there are daily things we all can do that can make a big difference in our effort to keep our hearts healthy.”

Move it

Grogan encourages people to move 10 extra minutes each day. A sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of heart attack almost as much as smoking does, recent studies show. Movement, she says, provides a significant pay-off.

“Moving even 10 minutes a day for someone who’s been sedentary may reduce the risk for heart disease by 50 percent,” Grogan said.

Getting a adequate sleep is also important since it reduces the chances of obesity and high blood pressure, two major risk factors for heart disease. For women, the risks are especially high.

“The latest American Heart Association statistics reveal that heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, killing one woman every minute,” said Liliana Cohen, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with The Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group. “Yet, these same studies show that relatively few women believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat.”

Women at risk

Cohen says 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.  She says these misconceptions could be putting women’s lives at risk every day.

“The symptom many women focus on is chest pain, but the reality is that women are also likely to experience other types of symptoms, including shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea or vomiting,” she said. “This misperception may lead many women to ignore or minimize their symptoms and delay getting life-saving treatment.”

Other symptoms of a heart attack for both women and men include dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting; pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen; and extreme fatigue.

Mariam Kashani, MS, CRNP and a DNP student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, says the Framingham Risk Score (FRS), which doctors routinely use to predict heart disease in their patients, has a blind spot that could leave many patients vulnerable. She says it ignores family history, which means many patients might never see heart disease coming until it hits them.

No. 1 cause of death

“Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death and disability in the United States,” Kashani said. “Being categorized as low-risk when you are, in fact, truly high-risk could leave patients unaware and unarmed to take action to protect themselves.”

She's working to identify and warn those overlooked by FRS and get them started on an aggressive program to limit the danger.

To be on the safe side, everyone should take steps to improve heart health, and that means no smoking, tracking your cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise. The American Heart Association says reducing sodium consumption is one of the healthiest things you can do for your heart.

Cut the sodium

Americans consume about 3,600 mg of sodium per day — more than twice the recommended limit. Reducing that by 40%, the researchers found, could save as many as 500,000 lives over ten years.

Excessive sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

“These findings strengthen our understanding that sodium reduction is beneficial to people at all ages,” said Pamela Coxson, lead author of the study and a mathematics specialist in the department of medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “Even small, gradual reductions in sodium intake would result in substantial mortality benefits across the population.”

The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 1.500 mg per day.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.