Maybe that wasn’t indigestion. And really, should carrying a sack of groceries up a few stairs be so fatiguing?
When symptoms occur, it’s time to tell your family doctor, review your family history, and possibly have a screening for cardiovascular conditions, says Mark Kime, director of cardiology at Porter Regional Hospital.
“The Center for Cardiovascular Medicine here provides patients with an impressive array of non-invasive tests that can identify issues before they become a real problem. And our cardiovascular center is a hospital inside of a hospital, tailored to the patients’ specific needs, so you don’t have to go here and there through the hospital for different services.”
Dr. Sandeep Sehgal, chairman of cardiology of Porter Regional Hospital, emphasizes that the cardiovascular evaluation is comprehensive. “We focus on detecting high blood pressure, diabetes, blockages in the arteries of the heart and the legs, and more. That’s the new aspect of the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine: Standard screenings and evaluations are integrated into a program providing a comprehensive diagnostic process.” And that means convenience and savings for the patient, says Kime.
Limiting evaluations to cardiology could mean missing a serious vascular condition because of what Sehgal calls an overlap between conditions affecting the heart, neck, legs and kidneys. “If you have (a problem) with one, you should be also be talking about other things, such as, do your legs hurt when you walk, which can be a symptom of peripheral artery disease.”
Early detection and diagnosis are essential, says Sehgal. “We had a lady in her late sixties come in for screenings, accompanied by her husband. As it happened, we had a cancellation at the time and we asked the husband, ‘Do you want to have the screening, too?’ The wife insisted on it. We discovered he had an aneurysm in the belly, a life-threatening situation that we treated right away. And he did very well.”
Younger people can also be at risk for cardiovascular conditions, such as exercise-induced leg pain. Blood tests can detect inflammation. Kime says, “Wherever there is inflammation, there can be a disease process, even in people who are relatively young. They can make minor changes in their lifestyle, like avoiding too much sugar and fat.”
Kime says there are risk factors for cardiovascular disease that people should be aware of:
- Diabetes; it makes blood cells stick together, which can produce ischemia – insufficient supply of blood to the organ(s)
- Heredity (family history)
- Smoking: Elements in tobacco accelerate formation of plaque in the arteries
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Stress, which causes the release of hormones that cause weight gain.
Fran Clark, RN at St. Catherine Hospital, says women need to be more aware of how women’s heart attack symptoms may differ from men’s.
“Heart disease is the biggest killer of women,” says Clark, supervisor of the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation department, “so they need to know what symptoms to watch for.” Women may experience the classic and familiar crushing chest pain, sweating, nausea, and pain down the left arm. But their symptoms tend to be less dramatic; there may be a sensation in the throat, something possibly vague but annoying. They may have pain in the upper back, between the shoulder blades, in the neck or jaw – any pain from the diaphragm just below the chest bone (sternum) up to the neck and around the neck should be checked out. There may be a sense of impending doom, that “something’s just not right.”
Symptoms may last a few minutes or less and occur in one or more episodes.
A telling factor can be pain or extreme fatigue after such common exertion as doing laundry, taking out the trash, or climbing stairs.
“The most common time for heart attacks is from early morning to noon. If symptoms wake you in the night, that’s a time to call 911 – no matter what age you are.”
Family history can be an important clue for being at risk. “If parents know their cholesterol is high, they should have their children’s cholesterol levels checked, too, since so many children are more sedentary now..”
Clark urges women to be honest with their doctor. “If you’ve had discomfort mowing the lawn or doing other tasks, don’t tell the doctor, ‘I’m fine.’ “
Exercise is vital for keeping hearts healthy, Clark says. “Participate in any program – even 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Just keep moving.”
Stay a step ahead
Dr.. Mohan Kesani at Pinnacle Hospital in Crown Point, Ind., says preventing heart and vascular disease is vital, and screenings can alert the patient and doctor to specific risk factors. “Advanced heart health screening can show if there are problems that can be dealt with before something happens.”
Other conditions, such as lupus, high blood pressure and diabetes can affect cardiovascular health. “At Pinnacle Hospital, we look at everything – your body mass index, whether you smoke, medications you may be taking, family history.
“Right now we’re creating a comprehensive cardiovascular unit that will open in February. With our diagnostic evaluations we can help you see where to modify your lifestyle to keep blood vessels healthy.”
Sehgal advises, “Anybody having known risk factors or has symptoms should have a cardiovascular exam.”