Living Well: February is the Month for Hearts

Know your numbers for a healthy heart

For such a vital organ, it’s all too easy to take heart health for granted. It literally pumps away every second, whether we’re paying attention or not—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. According to health experts at Fort HealthCare, February is as good a time as any to remind us what we should be focusing on all year long.

“It is so important to take care of your heart before something becomes wrong with it,” says family medicine physician, Rebecca Reim, MD, of Fort HealthCare Cambridge Clinic in Cambridge, Wis. “Some people have certain risk factors they can’t control but must be aware of. For them, and the rest of us, there are still a number of things we can do to try and stay healthy.”

Age, gender, and heredity are things beyond the scope of our control, but that doesn’t make us powerless. Beyond these predetermined factors, lifestyle plays a critical role in heart health. And though heart research and breakthroughs are ever-evolving, there is no substitution for the basics—such as these, provided by the team of physicians and specialists of Fort HealthCare, in Fort Atkinson and surrounding communities.

Know Your Numbers

  • Keep blood pressure below 120/80. Even a slight elevation (up to 139/89) can signal borderline high blood pressure or pre-hypertension, and 140/90 means hypertension. High blood pressure can lead to hardened arteries, heart failure, stroke or heart attack.
  • Cholesterol. Keep LDL (bad cholesterol) below 100 mg/dL, and HDL (good cholesterol)above 50 mg/dL.
  • Body Mass Index, or BMI, between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal, and anything above that puts you at risk. Being overweight increases risk for heart disease.
  • Watch your weight. Carrying extra weight overall puts your heart health at risk, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, stroke and
    diabetes—but waist size is especially significant. Fat around the belly is associated with increased risk of heart disease, and even a modest weight loss of 5–10% of body weight can lower heart disease risk.
  • Be the change. Knowledge is power, so once you know your numbers, take simple steps to manage them. If you smoke, quit today. Eat lean, with foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Aim every day for six-ounce portions of fish, poultry and lean meat; at least five servings of fruit and vegetables; and whole grains such as rye or wheat bread, or whole-wheat pasta. Be sure to exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Glucose levels. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease due to a variety of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity—and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related death. Diabetes also causes blood flow and blood clotting problems.

Heart Health, Surgery and the Elderly

When lifestyle changes and medication are not enough, cardiac surgery may be needed—but this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly for the elderly patient.

“The geriatric patient is not just an older version of a middle-aged person, any more than a pediatric patient is a younger version,” says Dr. Niloo Edwards of UW Health. “The elderly are different physiologically, and have very different psycho-social needs. To get truly high quality care and superior outcomes requires a deep understanding of the older patient.”

At UW Health, cutting edge cardiothoracic surgeons treat high-risk patients with rare and difficult conditions, many of whom have been turned away from other institutions. They also utilize an acute after-care team for elderly patients, where specific needs are assessed
and cross-departmental experts are brought in to establish a customized after-surgery care program.

“For example, benzodiazepines, such as valium, do not metabolize the same way in the older patients, making it a poor choice for managing confusion,” says Edwards.

Confusion itself is a serious concern for elderly patients, which is why UW Health’s practice of “universal beds” is so beneficial. Once an elderly patient is admitted, they stay put.

“All the treatment revolves around them, but the environment remains stable,” says Edwards. “If they need ICU, the ICU equipment moves in. The window stays on the right, the door stays on the left, these things are so important to the elderly patient.”

Edwards also stresses that not all heart surgery is the emergency kind, and in fact much of it is “elective”—if you or your elderly parent is told he or she needs surgery, there may in fact be time to get a second opinion and research facilities. In fact, Edwards says many Madison residents bring their parents to UW Health for cardiac surgery, even though they may have retired in a warmer state.

“I think it would surprise people, the number of people who bring family members from out of town to have surgery at UW,” says Edwards. “They realize that UW has some of the best outcomes and care in the country, and if mom can have surgery here they don’t have to take time off work or find a place to stay.”

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— Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz

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