Sunday, February 15, 2009
How to protect your heart
Every year scientists discover new ways men can protect their hearts--from steps you can take to avoid problems, to drugs and gadgets that can help if you already have heart disease. We asked heart researchers to boil it down to 10 simple rules men can follow.
Get the Latest, Greatest Test
That's the highly sensitive C-reactive protein test, or HSCRP. A study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that this blood test is twice as effective as a standard cholesterol test in predicting heart attacks and strokes. It measures the levels of a specific blood protein that indicates that you have inflamed heart arteries--the kind that rupture and cause heart failure.
When researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston monitored 30,000 women for 3 years, they found that those with the highest levels of CRP suffered a much higher rate of heart attacks and strokes. And this result is perfectly applicable to men, says Paul Ridker, M.D., the lead study author.
"Since half of all heart-attack victims have normal cholesterol levels, the HSCRP test is a much better way to figure your true risk," he explains. Ask your doctor to perform the $15 HSCRP test (not the standard CRP test; that's important) along with your regular cholesterol test. "That gives you plenty of time to make some serious lifestyle changes to reduce the risk," concludes Dr. Ridker.
Keep up With Your Exercise
Over the past 4 decades, dozens of studies have shown that exercise is good for your heart. But here's the catch, according to a recent survey: You're only as strong as your last workout.
Doctors from the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts compared people who'd only recently started exercising with those who used to exercise regularly but stopped. Their finding: The cardiovascular mortality rate was 40 percent lower among the current exercisers.
Their deaths encouraged Marshall to change her eating habits and to exercise regularly, she said.
"I don't eat a lot of fried foods," Marshall said. "I bake most of my meats, eat vegetables and drink a lot of water. I try to get out there and walk often, too."
At 78, Marshall thinks she's in good health. She goes to the doctor and to community health programs.
Last week, Marshall attended the first annual "Community Go Red Luncheon: It's a Heart Affair," organized by the Jackson chapter of Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., a national humanitarian organization.
The program, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, educated women about heart disease and its risk factors in the activity center of Macedonia Baptist Church.
"When I heard it was a program about taking care of your heart, I thought I needed to come," Marshall said.
More than 150 people attended the event, which included blood pressure and sugar tests, a lecture from a local cardiologist and a fashion show. Many came dressed in red to support Go Red for Women, a national movement founded by the American Heart Association to fight back against heart disease, the No. 1 killer of American women.
February also is American Heart Month.
Janice Sowell, director of the East Jackson Family Medical Center, said heart disease is usually hereditary. She helped attendees test their blood pressure and sugar levels.
"As long as you keep your blood pressure and sugar good, it reduces the risk of having heart disease," Sowell said while checking someone's sugar levels. "Most people who have diabetes have high blood pressure, which can turn into heart disease. It all works together."
When Jimmy Wilson of Jackson found out his mother had congestive heart failure, he started researching heart disease. His mother had never had a heart attack, he said.
Wilson wanted to understand her disease - as well as help make sure she went to the doctor and took her medicine, without being too pushy, he said.
"You have to allow people to do for themselves sometimes," Wilson said while speaking about his mother during the program's "Untold Stories of the Heart." "But my mother was very stubborn. She tried to outsmart her doctor. She didn't want to take her medication."
Eventually, Wilson said his mother began to listen to her doctor as she tried to improve her condition through exercise and a better diet. He was happy to see her make these efforts before she died.
"When she died, her heart stopped, and it was painful to watch someone who was healthy deteriorate," Wilson said. "I thank God I was able to be with her those years. I thank God for Top Ladies educating the public about heart disease."
Pam Springfield, the program's coordinator, said the chapter, which includes 13 women, began planning the event in October. Every month, the group, which is a predominantly black women's organization, addresses a health issue as part of its national goals to help enhance the lives of women, she said.
"We decided to organize a big event in February since it's American Heart Month," Springfield said. "I kind of noticed the community doing Go Red events but never in the black community."
'Guard your heart'
Dr. P. Renee Obi, a cardiologist with the First Care Medical Center in Jackson, said heart disease should be an important topic in the black community because coronary heart disease kills more black women than cancer.
Since the '50s, black women have had a higher death rate of heart disease than white women," Obi said. "Even though the gap is declining, black women are still more likely to die from this disease. Us as black women need to learn more about our body and the symptoms of heart disease."
It's also important to remember that the heart is a major pump, she said.
"Its job is to pump our blood. Guard your heart more than any treasure because it is the source of all life," Obi said, quoting a Bible verse from Proverbs. "Fortunately, God just doesn't spring heart disease among us. We have certain warning signs that tell use we might have heart disease."
Warning signs of heart disease include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the body, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
Obi encouraged women to exercise, quit smoking, and to visit their doctor regularly to help reduce their risk of getting heart disease.
"Unfortunately as black women, we're not doing all we can to lower our risk factors," she said. "More than three-fourths of black women are obese and exercise less than white women. If we all listen to messages from our body and not be stubborn in our mind, maybe we can help keep our bodies in tune."
Tony Black of Jackson said the program inspired him to take better care of himself.
"I'm always concerned about heart issues, because it's a major disease that affects men and women, specifically African-Americans," he said.
The show, sponsored by the Wilbourn Sisters Designer Boutique in Jackson, featured all red designs, from cocktail dresses to suits and shawls.
The program also included praise dance performances.
Nya Carney, 13, who danced at the event, is a member of the Top Ladies of Distinction's Top Teens program. She was inducted in October.
"The group has done a lot of good things in the community, and I wanted to be a part of it,"