Heart disease and strokes remain two of the deadliest diseases in the United States. In light of February being “American Heart Month,” created to increase awareness surrounding these diseases, South Jersey Magazine spoke to some of the leading medical specialists in our region in order to find out what you can do to cut your risk, what you should do if you suspect you might be in trouble, and what options are available for treatment.
Cutting your Risk
First and foremost, Dr. Douglas S. Jacoby, director of Penn Cardiology Preventative Care, and medical director, Penn Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Pavilion, says it’s important to recognize that a person’s future risk of a heart attack or a stroke reflects a combination of their lifestyle and their family history/genetic risk. While you obviously cannot control your genetic risk factor, you can control your lifestyle and make some heart healthy changes. This includes cardiovascular exercise and a healthy diet.
With diet, Jacoby recommends a plant-based approach and avoiding excess calorie intake, too many carbs, and too much fat.
“For exercise, the recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times per week,” he adds. “The weekend warrior approach of two to two-and-a-half hours of cardiac exercise on the weekend is an acceptable alternative for people that are too busy during the week. Exercise lowers cardiac risk and seems to lower cancer risk as well.”
The recommendations from the National Stroke Association, regarding stroke prevention, are quite similar, with an emphasis on a healthy lifestyle and controlling those risk factors that you can. The Stroke Association also advises smoking cessation and alcohol use in moderation (defined as no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink per day for women).
Watching for Red Flags
Of course, being aware of the symptoms of a stroke or heart attack is also incredibly valuable as both medical emergencies have the best possible outcome when treated early.
Michelle Valente, MA, CCC-SLP, outpatient director, Bancroft NeuroRehab Cherry Hill, adds that time truly is of the essence.
“I think that people are sometimes hesitant to go to the hospital for fear of feeling foolish that it’s nothing serious,” says Valente. “But we know that the more time that passes and you are not treated, the worse your outcome could potentially be. We have had patients say they had the worst headaches of their life, but they went to bed thinking it would get better. Don’t take a chance.”
Advances in Care
Over the years, the treatment and rehabilitation options for stroke and heart patients have made some exciting advances. That’s helping more patients not only survive, but recover, than ever before.
Dr. Vivek Sailam, cardiologist with Lourdes Cardiology, says that treatment for heart attacks can be with cardioprotective medicines that preserve the heart muscle and lower the stress on the heart. It might also include prompt opening of clogged arteries in a cardiac procedure called a catherization. Open heart surgery, where multiple clogged arteries can be bypassed, and heart valves can be replaced, is also a possibility.
“Survival has improved because of early d etection of heart disease with intensive screening and early treatment, before there is any damage to heart muscle,” Sailam adds.
Stroke care has also come a long way and some of the greatest advances have been in rehabilitative care patients receive post-stroke.
Mary-Kate Matozzo, physical therapist with Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation-Marlton Campus, says that when rehab starts right away, and even continues in the home and outpatient setting, it helps set the patient up for success. She says the goal is “more independence” and that Kessler targets all aspects of the patient’s life with a comprehensive program that even addresses the emotional recovery.
“I think that a lot of times, because the physical changes are so apparent, the emotional side can be overlooked,” she says. “But that’s one of the biggest changes the patient must adjust to— coping with a new normal. It’s important to get support.”
Matozzo adds that family members often need support, too. Kessler offers stroke support groups for patients and family members to attend. She says it’s a place to talk about some of those life changes and to get support from others going through the same thing.
At Bancroft, the focus is also on the patient as a whole with an interdisciplinary team addressing all potential needs—physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, cognitive functional needs, etc.
“Addressing the person’s whole treatment plan really does make a big difference,” says Valente. “When you have a team involved, it makes for stronger outcomes.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 11 (February 2018).
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