Doctors aren’t just telling their patients they should quit smoking, lose weight, be more active and eat healthier. They can now direct them to programs that will help.
Cardiac rehabilitation programs available at all area hospitals provide a wide range of prevention help, not only for those recovering from cardiac events, but for nearly anyone who wants to improve their odds.
“Health care is changing to that – to prevention,” said Michelle George, program manager for cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.
“Even if you don’t have heart disease at this time, it’s looking at risk factors that can lead to heart disease.”
Knowing one’s risk factors is a key first step in preventing heart disease, heart surgeon Dr. Savas Mavridis said at Memorial.
“The most important thing is: Take charge of their health,” Mavridis said. “You have to eat healthy. You have to exercise. You have to know your history.
“You should not wait until you are sick before you see the doctors. Go and make the appropriate lifestyle changes.”
Although cardiac rehab often is associated with workout facilities and strenuous routines, programs address all risk factors, George explained.
Smokers are directed to cessation help. Those with diabetes are referred to Conemaugh Diabetes Institute. There are dietitians to help address obesity and nutrition issues. And psychologists help patients understand stress management and overcome obstacles preventing lifestyle change, George said.
Similar programs are available through cardiac rehab facilities and community health programs at Windber Medical Center and Somerset Hospital.
“Cardiac rehab is a program of both exercise and education,” Jill Fox, nurse manager for cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, said from Somerset Hospital.
“One is just as important as the other to help them with recovery and help them learn how to manage their conditions on their own.”
But patients should not lose sight of the importance of exercise – both in recovering from cardiac events and for preventing future events, said Gary Pagano, Windber’s cardiac rehabilitation director.
“I like to use the term ‘exercise as medicine,’ ” Pagano said at the hospital’s HealthStyles fitness center.
“If there is one pill we could make that would make people healthier, it’s exercise – if we could bottle that.”
Some patients recovering from heart angioplasty with stent placement or bypass surgery ignore the doctors’ recommendation to follow up with a rehab program or with lifestyle modification on their own, Pagano noted.
“There are some who continue to be in denial,” Pagano said. “They think everything is going to be OK once they have the stent or bypass. Unfortunately, many of them have a number of events.”
“The stent takes care of that particular blockage,” George said at Memorial. “But the cardiovascular disease is going to advance.”
“They think they are fixed and it is taken care of,” rehab nurse Patti Huber Smith said at Memorial. “It is the lifestyle changes they need to make to stay ‘fixed.’ ”
Medicare studies show those recovering from heart attacks, angioplasty and heart surgery are less likely to die or have additional complications if they complete a rehabilitation program, Fox noted.
Cardiac rehab programs can last from six to 12 weeks and provide one-on-one guidance by nurses and exercise physiologists. The personal connections help improve outcomes, Fox said.
“It is a unique opportunity for our nurses,” she said. “We get to know our patients better and help them recognize symptoms or we notice different symptoms and can refer them for more help.”
All of the area’s cardiac rehab operations have arrangements for patients to continue using the facilities after they have completed the initial rehab programs.
At Windber HealthStyles and Somerset Hospital Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, anyone can purchase a membership for access to the fitness center and its support staff. At Memorial, those with significant risk factors can join a continuing program, centered in the Good Samaritan building.
“I want them to do cardio-rehab for the rest of their lives,” Mavridis said.
Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.
Know your risk factors
Here are risk factors for coronary heart disease
Risk factors that can’t be modified:
* Increasing age – About 82 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older.
* Being male – Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life.
* Heredity – Children of parents with heart disease, African-Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans are more likely to develop heart disease.
Risk factors that can be modified:
* Tobacco smoke – Smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2 to 4 times that of nonsmokers.
* High blood cholesterol – As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease.
* High blood pressure – It increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart muscle to thicken and become stiffer.
* Physical inactivity – Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater your benefits.
* Obesity and overweight – People who have excess body fat — especially if a lot of it is at the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors.
* Diabetes – Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled.
* Stress – Some scientists have noted a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person’s life, their health behaviors and socioeconomic status.
* Alcohol use – Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. But the risk of heart disease in people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol is lower than in nondrinkers.
* Diet and nutrition – A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grain and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products is the key.
Source: American Heart Association
Learn more about heart disease:
Wednesday at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center: Heart health event, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Atrium area. Joella Bobak will share her story of heart attack and recovery. Event will include bone density and peripheral artery disease screenings. Heart king and queen to be crowned at 1:45 p.m. Nutrition program from
10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Crossroads Cafe.
Feb. 17 at Windber Medical Center: Dr. Samir Hadeed lecture at 6 p.m. in WindberPlace conference area. Hadeed will cover abnormal heart rhythm. Event will include informational literature, blood pressure screenings and health risk assessments, including body fat and body mass index. Call 467-3892 to register.
Feb. 26 at Somerset Hospital: Dr. Pradeep Nair presentation at 5 p.m. in conference room 423. Nair will cover cardiac disease prevention. Event will include a reception with professionals from different hospital programs sharing resources on heart disease. Call 443-5735 to register.