Hospital program provides heart health information for women

J. Lynn West

Baptist Memorial Hospital observed Heart Health Month by providing its annual Women and Hearth Health lunch program Monday to help inform the public about heart disease.

Dr. Christopher Ingelmo of the Stern Cardiovascular Foundation provided a capacity audience with a wealth of information on heart disease, risk factors and prevention.

“Programs like this are just one way of the hospital’s getting more connected with the community,” BMH Administrator Walter Grace told the group.

Ingelmo, whose clinic sees patients at BMH-Union County on Mondays, said heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the U.S., along with strokes and peripheral vascular disease.

He told the group that 600,000 people die from heart disease every year, someone suffers a heart attack every 34 seconds and someone dies as a result of a heart attack every minute.

Part of this rate is attributed to a lack of knowledge on the part of the public. “For many people, their first symptom is their last,” he said, pointing out that heart disease often shows no clear symptoms until an attack occurs.

Over $100 billion is spent annually treating heart disease, he said, and Mississippi has one of the highest rates of heart-related death in the country.

“Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in women,” Ingelmo told his audience, which was almost entirely composed of women. “Up to 43 million women suffer from heart disease and one in three will die,” he said. “Sixty-four percent who die never had symptoms.”

Ingelmo showed a short video about one woman’s experience. The woman was relatively young, couldn’t believe her symptoms were those of a heart attack and delayed getting help. His message from the video was to never take a chance with symptoms, call 911 first and get to a hospital quickly.

He said a heart attack can cause a variety of symptoms beside the more familiar chest pain, and that women may have symptoms men usually don’t.

Some of the most common symptoms include headache, clammy skin, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, crushing pain in the center of the chest, a feeling of dread or anxiety, loss of consciousness, jaw, shoulder or neck pain and pain radiating down either arm.

He reiterated it is better to use caution and perhaps be proven wrong than to take a chance. “Call 911 first,” he said, “not your doctor, not your friends.”

A good way to help prevent a heart attack is to know one’s risk factors, Ingelmo said. “Education is critical. Many first-time heart attacks are disabling,” he said.

Some risk factors cannot be modified, he said, specifically age, gender and family history.

But others can, he continued. Blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and stress all are within the patient’s control.

Ingelmo said those at risk include persons with high blood pressure, with high cholesterol, who smoke, are obese, have unrecognized diabetes or uncontrolled stress.

“The experts have gone back and forth on this but now they say the top number (in blood pressure) is most important,” he said, and that should be lower than 120 (that’s the systolic pressure and the other, lower, diastolic, pressure should be 80 or less).

According to some of the other information provided to those attending, generally speaking, the risk of heart disease doubles for every increase of 20 in systolic and 10 diastolic blood pressure.

Ingelmo displayed preferred levels for cholesterol (less than 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol) and noted that it is never too late to stop smoking.

“Control your risk factors,” he said, and provided a list: avoid smoking, eat a balanced diet, be moderately active two to three hours a week, maintain a healthy weight, know your risk numbers and talk to your doctor. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, sticking with those low in those fats, cholesterol and causing high triglycerides. Lower one’s salt or sodium intake as well.

“Teamwork is also important,” he said, “with your spouse, family, friends, physician.”

Ingelmo concluded with what he called four key points to avoid heart issues: know risk factors, know the numbers, adopt healthy habits and work with your doctor.