Have a heart healthy holiday season

December 15, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Dr. Elizabeth Gold, cardiologist at the Virginia Mason Issaquah clinic, performs an exam Dec. 10 on Brooks Loop, 84, of Snoqualmie. By Greg Farrar

Dr. Elizabeth Gold, cardiologist at the Virginia Mason Issaquah clinic, performs an exam Dec. 10 on Brooks Loop, 84, of Snoqualmie. By Greg Farrar

With sleigh bells jingling and merry spirits, it’s likely you’re ready for the holidays, but is your heart?

Each year, nearly 785,000 Americans suffer a heart attack and more than 631,636 have heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. High cholesterol and high blood pressure, causes that lead to heart attacks and heart disease, are factors people should be aware of, according to Issaquah’s newest cardiologist, Dr. Elizabeth Gold.

Heart health is “essential, it makes us all go,” she said. “If your heart stops, that’s the definition of dying.

“There are a lot of issues with heart health,” she said. “One of the main ones is if you have a heart attack, severe enough, it could kill you. But there are other things that damage your heart muscle and can severely impact your quality of life.”

Those include heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, she said.

Gold started a new rotation with Virginia Mason’s Issaquah clinic Dec. 7 and has been helping patients and residents prepare to be more heart healthy this coming year.

The rotation program was started with the hope that patients would have more local access to specialists. With two successful cardiologist rotations in Bellevue and Kirkland, Gold’s rotation to Issaquah was a natural next step, according to Alisha Mark, director of communications for the hospital.

“It’s really great for patients,” medical assistant Kelsey Eyer said. “Dr. Gold is brilliant and she has a good sense of humor with patients, and I enjoy working with her.”

Gold said she realizes not everyone will come through her door, but the information she gives comes in handy for all Issaquah residents.

Q: What are the two most common reasons people are referred to you?

A: One, long-term management of heart disease. Two, initial evaluation of possible cardiac symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations.

Q: What is the most important thing for people to know about their heart that many don’t? Why is it important?

A: The bad news is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. The good news is that everyone can significantly decrease their own risk of heart disease by working with their health care provider to manage their risk factors.

Q: What should people know about heart disease and heart attacks?

A: Heart attacks don’t always present with classic “crushing chest pain.” Sometimes, they present with shortness of breath, nausea or a vague chest discomfort. When someone is having a heart attack, time is critical. Someone experiencing concerning symptoms should call 911 immediately.

Q: What happens after you’ve experienced these things? How do you help?

A: Heart attacks are caused by the complete blockage of an artery that brings blood to the heart muscle. If the blockage is not removed the heart muscle will die. Cardiologists can help by opening the blocked artery with medications or catheters, which saves the heart muscle.

Q: Does high blood pressure affect your heart? How and why isn’t high blood pressure good?

A: High blood pressure is called the silent killer, because it does not cause symptoms, but over time, can lead to heart disease and strokes. People need to know their blood pressure and work with their provider to control it using diet (low-salt), exercise and, if necessary, medications.

Q: What is good and what is bad cholesterol? What are three types of food from each?

A: Good cholesterol, called HDL, carries fat out of the body. Bad cholesterol, called LDL, builds up inside arteries causing blockages. Eating foods high in omega-3 oils, such as fish, avocado and nuts helps to increase the level of good cholesterol. Eating foods high in saturated fats, such as deep fried foods, butter and animal fats can increase the levels of bad cholesterol.

Q: How can people keep their heart healthy early?

A: Consistent physical activity — at least 30 minutes five days a week — is one of the most important things people can do for heart health. Every hour of exercise you do extends your life by two hours.

Q: How can people improve their heart’s health later in life? Can you undo any damage?

A: Absolutely. It is never too late! For example, several studies show quitting smoking reduces the risk for heart disease 50 percent within one year and equalizes the risk for heart disease and stroke to that of a nonsmoker within five years.

Q: Does your heart stop when you sneeze?

A: That’s funny. I’ve been asked that before, but the truth is your heart doesn’t stop when you sneeze. I think that myth started because sometimes sneezing leads to a “skipped beat.”

Q: What are a few things to stay away from during the holidays? Why?

A: Avoid excess. You don’t have to completely avoid any particular food, just limit your intake. Enjoy the occasional holiday cookie: just don’t make a meal of them!

Q: What are things people can enjoy?

A: There are many healthy options available. When you hit the buffet at the holiday party, try to stick to foods that feature fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts make a great alternative to chips, and avocado dips are a great alternative to dips made from sour cream.

Q: How can you counteract what you indulge in during the holidays?

A: Keep up your regular exercise routine and add an extra walk or two. Shoot for at least 30 minutes at least five times a week. Do little extras, like take the stairs at work, or park further away from the grocery store or shopping mall.

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