TMH Living Well: Simple ways to keep your heart healthy

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When we think of our hearts, we often consider them the engines of our bodies. They are literally what keeps us ticking.

That’s why making sure our hearts are healthy is so important. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and it accounts for one in four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of heart disease

Symptoms for heart disease can vary, depending on whether you have clogged arteries or a problem with the function of your heart. Symptoms can also differ between men and women.

Here’s what to watch for:

• Shortness of breath

• Chest pain

• Pain, weakness, numbness or swelling in arms or legs

• Pain in neck, jaw, throat, back or abdomen

• Fluttering, racing or slow heartbeat

• Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting

• Fatigue

If you consistently have one or more of these symptoms, contact your doctor. TMH provides a variety of cardiac stress tests. Call respiratory therapy at 970-826-2210 for more information or visit www.thememorialhospital.com.

Preventing heart disease

While you can’t control your genetic risk factors, there is a lot you can do to keep your heart healthy.

Key prevention habits include not smoking, exercising for 30 minutes most days and eating a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated fat from dairy products, red meat, deep-fried foods and bakery products. Getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy weight are also important.

Regular health screenings are a good way to keep track of how well your heart is working. Tests you should get regularly include blood pressure checks, cholesterol lab work and a screening for diabetes.

Cardiac Stress Tests

If you do exhibit consistent symptoms of heart disease (see box), your doctor might order a cardiac stress test to see how your heart handles its workload. The test shows how well blood flows through the arteries that enter and exit your heart. Low blood flow indicates a possible blockage or a structural concern.

“At The Memorial Hospital we offer a variety of cardiac stress tests. All of them involve running on the treadmill and examining the heart or looking at results right afterwards,” said Anessa Kopsa, RRT, CPFT, AE-C, respiratory therapist with TMH. “With a stress echocardiogram we look at the heart under ultrasound to check for valve issues, among other symptoms. The nuclear medicine tests involve injecting dyes beforehand in a resting state and again during exercise to show blood flow through the heart, which can indicate blockages.”

Cardiac stress tests take about an hour, with approximately 10 minutes on the treadmill. Results are sent to a cardiologist for reading. TMH has cardiologists on site to read tests and see patients five days a week — Dr. William Baker and Dr. Gerald Myers. Tests are offered five days each week.

The hospital also has 24-hour Holter monitors that the patient wears for an entire day to show the heart’s function during activity and rest. They're often used to help diagnose episodes of lightheadedness.

“We have patients keep a diary of when they take their medicines, exercise, sleep or use the bathroom,” Kopsa said. “That way we can track whether the dizziness is related to a certain activity, such as a side effect to medication.”

Besides cardiac stress tests, TMH also offers pulmonary function tests to diagnose lung and breathing disorders.

“Even though it might be scary, it is better to be proactive and find out what’s happening if you are experiencing symptoms,” Kopsa said.

If you are experiencing chest pain, seek medical care immediately through the emergency department.

For more information, call the respiratory therapy department at 970-826-2210.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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