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A Healthy Heart

by Mindy Toran

Through community workshops and prevention measures local health systems are working toward the goal of reducing heart attacks and strokes across the nation.

Heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States, making cardiovascular disease responsible for one out of every three deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Currently, cardiovascular disease costs more than $400 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity among Americans, and heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of disability today.

These staggering numbers have led the HHS, along with several key public and private partners, to launch Million Hearts, a national initiative that aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. by 2017. Currently, there are more than 800,000 deaths a year due to cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Led by the CDC and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, this initiative aims to improve Americans’ health and increase productivity.

Cardiovascular disease, a broad term for all diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, includes heart attack and stroke, as well as conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and aortic aneurism. Many major risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking, are controllable. By addressing these issues and empowering Americans to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking and reducing sodium and trans fat consumption, Americans can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Efforts on the home front
The Million Hearts initiative aims to prevent heart disease and strokes by helping individuals understand the risks, encouraging people to get up and get active by exercising for 30 minutes several days a week, and focusing on the ABC’S of heart disease—aspirin for people at risk, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation—which address the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

In the South Jersey area, a number of local efforts are in place to accomplish this initiative through healthy lifestyle education programs as well as access to treatment.

The Deborah Heart and Lung Center, in Browns Mills, has long been a proponent of educating patients about the risk factors for heart disease and helping them build a foundation for healthy lifestyle changes. Earlier this month, Deborah hosted a Women’s Heart Month Health Expo at The Enterprise Center in Mount Laurel. The expo was held in conjunction with the American Heart Association’s “Go Red For Women” movement, which aims to raise awareness about the need to fight heart disease in women. Staff from Deborah’s Women’s Heart Center and Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at Deborah were on hand to meet attendees, allowing the opportunity to participate in health screenings, including blood pressure, glucose, body fat analysis, pulmonary function testing and balance.

The expo also provided a wide range of wellness, health and fitness activities for women of all ages, such as massages and bodywork, yoga and meditation, and fitness demos including Zumba and core training. In addition, heart-healthy cooking demos were presented, along with health, beauty and fitness products.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women,” says Dr. Renee Bullock-Palmer, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Center at Deborah. “It’s important to help people identify their risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight or obesity, and help them address these issues in order to begin building a foundation for healthy lifestyle changes.”

Women’s symptoms may also present differently than traditional symptoms of heart disease—chest pain or discomfort, irregular heartbeat or dizziness, loss of consciousness or fatigue. “Women may experience uncommon symptoms such as anxiety, shortness of breath or sleep disturbances,” says Bullock-Palmer.

“Diabetes is also a risk factor for heart disease,” says Dr. Jenine Vecchio, medical director at the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at Deborah. “We focus on helping patients with uncontrolled diabetes. We have a diabetes educator on staff to teach individuals how to live with and treat their diabetes. Also available at Deborah are nutritionists to help people focus on eating a proper diet, portion control and weight management.

A focus on prevention
Many local hospitals are proactively identifying patients at the greatest risk for a heart attack or stroke before problems occur and are helping them make healthy lifestyle changes.

Lourdes Health System, with hospitals in Camden and Willingboro, and offices throughout South Jersey, the medical records system can help identify patients who may be at risk for coronary disease and enable them to make patients aware of potential problems, says Dr. Jason Smith, a cardiologist. “We have a wellness center on-site as part of our cardiac rehabilitation program that helps patients take a holistic approach to smoking cessation, diet and exercise. In addition, we offer educational programming such as nutrition counseling, yoga and tai chi, and meditation, hypnosis and acupuncture. It’s important to identify patients before they have a heart attack and make them aware of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can lead to future problems.”

Dr. Jason Palermo, a cardiologist with Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, adds that controlling risk factors is the key to helping people maintain a heart healthy lifestyle. “By focusing on health maintenance, including weight management, proper nutrition, blood pressure management, diabetes control and exercise, people can greatly reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Virtua offers a variety of programs open to the public to help educate people on heart-related topics, including: how to avoid a heart attack; women and heart disease; a smoke-free life; eating for a healthy heart; and fitness and a healthy heart.

Virtua’s Center for Nutrition and Diabetes Care offers diabetes counseling, self-education programs and support groups for adults, including insulin instruction and management, one-on-one and small-group sessions focusing on diet, exercise and blood sugar monitoring, nutrition counseling, stress management and weight management programs.

In addition, Virtua’s Center for Weight Management offers a program designed to help people lose weight by learning how to properly fuel their body to feel their best. The program also helps people make the changes necessary to reach and maintain a healthy weight and heart. Virtua’s registered dieticians, who are nutrition experts, work one-on-one with clients to help them make the positive lifestyle changes necessary for a lifetime of healthier living.

“Dietary interventions and the need for regular exercise are key to controlling risk factors for heart disease,” says Palermo. “One of the biggest problems in Western society and industrialized nations is the move toward fast, on-the-go foods. This has led to a significant increase in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and higher rates of obesity.

We need to focus on diets higher in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and less saturated fats, along with regular exercise, which can help control blood pressure and cholesterol and put people on the path to better weight control and a healthier heart.”


Deborah Heart & Lung Center
200 Trenton Road
Browns Mills
(609) 893-6611

Lourdes Health System
1600 Haddon Ave.
(856) 757-3500

Virtua Corporate Office
50 Lake Center
401 Route 73 N., Suite 401
1 (888) VIRTUA-3

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (February, 2013).
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