Monday Medical: Know your cardiac risk
February 4, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs artist Pat Walsh can tell you the exact place, time and date her heart attack occurred. She was in PostNet when she stopped in her tracks at 2:57 p.m. on October 2, 2007.
“I just felt a rush all over my body and in my head,” she says. “Then I felt very painful, intense nausea. I was extremely hot and my hands were tingling. I was having trouble taking a deep breath because of the tightness in my chest.
“I knew this didn’t add up to anything good, but I went home and planned to lie down to see if the pain and nausea would let go,” she recalls. “I lay down for 30 seconds, got up and drove myself to Yampa Valley Medical Center, which is three blocks away.”
Walsh had no reason to believe she was at risk for a cardiac event. She was 58 years old, slim and active. A non-smoker and careful eater, she knew her cholesterol was slightly elevated and was aware of a family history of cardiac problems, but she felt she was healthy.
“Cardiovascular disease can develop long before you ever have symptoms or a heart attack,” Steamboat Springs cardiologist William Baker, M.D., said. “That is why it is so important to know your personal risk for heart disease.”
Yampa Valley Medical Center is recognizing American Heart Month by providing personalized cardiac risk assessments during February. The assessments and calcium scoring tests are specially priced all month, and several free educational events are scheduled.
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“We are emphasizing prevention,” Baker said. “Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in our country for both men and women. That is why it is so important to know your risk for heart disease or stroke.”
YVMC’s risk assessment product has several components. The first is a lipid and fasting blood glucose test to determine cholesterol levels and other important factors. Next comes a questionnaire with detailed health history questions. YVMC staff also will measure blood pressure and body mass index.
All of the numbers are then combined to develop the Framingham Risk score. The Framingham algorithm is an important tool used to determine an individual’s risk for having a heart attack.
“Depending on the Framingham score, some people may choose to have a coronary calcium scoring diagnostic test as well,” Baker said. “This imaging technique may detect the actual presence of plaque buildup and blockage.
“If you wonder if this test is for you, we always recommend that you first discuss your Framingham score and personal health issues with a physician.”
The cardiac assessments are being scheduled by Lisa Bankard, YVMC’s coordinator of Wellness and Community Education. Calcium scoring tests are done by the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging department.
Baker will explain cardiac risk factors and assessment at YVMC’s free family health program, “Taking Care of Me.” His talk, which will include a question-and-answer session, will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the hospital.
Steamboat Springs yoga instructor Victoria Strohmeyer will introduce “Cardiac Yoga” at a Feb. 27 program at YVMC. Developed by Dean Ornish, MD, as part of his Program for Reversing Health Disease, this free class is for individuals who would like to reduce the risks of heart disease or who have had a cardiac event.
“Heart disease is still largely preventable,” Baker said. “This is particularly true for people who can be identified as having an increased risk of developing cardiac problems.”
Susan Cowan, RN, who coordinates YVMC’s Cardiac Rehab program, emphasizes that appearances may be deceiving. “You don’t have to look like you are at risk,” she says. “People who are young, fit, healthy and eating the right things can be developing heart disease.”
Pat Walsh is a perfect example of that. She keeps her PostNet receipt – stamped with the date and time – in her wallet as a reminder of her heart attack. It is also a symbol of her resolve to recover her health and reduce her risk of having a repeat cardiac event.
“This was just out of the blue, without any clue that I would have a heart attack,” she says. “I thought my overall cholesterol ratio had me in a low-risk category.
“Now I know that any elevation in cholesterol can be serious, especially if you have any family history of cardiac problems. I am encouraging all my friends to get tested because the risk profile will be different for every one of them.”