Most men may attribute to feeling low energy, being easily fatigued or experiencing shortness of breath as being out of shape, but they may be signs of heart disease.
“The number of patients in cardiac rehab here at St. Mary Medical Center has tripled,” says Dr. Felix Gozo, medical director of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at St. Mary Medical Center.
“Those who participate in a continued exercise program have a higher quality of life, increased longevity and psychological improvement. Many of these patients, especially the younger ones, have experienced depression, because they never thought they'd have this kind of disease and that it would impact their lives so greatly.”
A 2013 report called County Health Rankings — by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — showed Lake County ranked No. 81 in health of the state's 92 counties. Porter County ranked No. 20 and LaPorte at No. 69.
Gozo and Terri Gingerich, Cardiovascular Service Line Director at the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine at Porter Regional Hospital, agree it’s important to educate the community about cardiovascular risk factors and how to avoid them.
“What we started to do, which is trending nationally, is ask how we can further reach out to prevent the acute situations from happening?” says Gingerich.
“When we go to community health fairs we talk to folks about stroke prevention and heart health but we really try to encourage people take the first step. You don’t need to go to boot camp to get heart healthy but increase activity, evaluate your diet or sodium intake or quit smoking. We talk to them about what they can do today to get started,” says Gingerich.
The Center for Cardiovascular Medicine offers an $85 screening that does a head-to-toe check for cardiovascular disease risks. Gingerich says the screening has been especially useful in detecting valvular heart disease and abdominal aortic aneurysms in patients who were not experiencing symptoms.
Dr. Jay Shah, cardiologist and Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Porter Regional Hospital, says once he receives results of a screening he sets goals with the patient.
“It isn’t about, ‘you weigh this, you smoke - this is what you’re doing wrong’. It’s about empowering the patient. After looking at the data I can say ‘in the next 10 years you have a 40 percent chance of having a heart attack. Here is your heart attack risk over a lifetime. Here’s what you can do about it,’” says Shah. “Some patients who smoke think, what’s the point of quitting? The damage has been done. But if a person can successfully quit smoking for two years the risk of heart attack is reduced to the rate of nonsmokers.”
The most common cardiovascular risk factors in the region are obesity, inactivity and tobacco abuse.
“Northwest Indiana has a high percentage of patients with these risk factors and others including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, making it a very volatile region for cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Anas Safadi, who is on staff at St. Mary Medical Center and has offices in both Hobart and Valparaiso.
Safadi says risk factors start to form early and if a patient is vigilant about reducing these factors, they have a much better chance of lowering their overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The earlier men pay attention to their heart health, the better. It's never too soon to take care of your heart. They should start to be conscious of their health at least by the age of 35,” says Gozo.