Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 30, 2010

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease refers to a problem with the heart’s structure and function due to abnormal heart development before birth.  Congenital heart defects are present at birth and can involve the interior walls of the heart, valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or out to the body.  These defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting 8 of every 1,000 newborns.  According to the American Heart Association, about 35,000 babies are born each year with some type of congenital heart defect.  These defects range from simple defects with no symptoms to complex defects with severe, life-threatening symptoms. Due to the new advanced diagnosis and treatment, almost all children with complex heart defects grow to adulthood and can live active, productive lives because their heart defects have been effectively treated.  However, some need special heart care throughout their lives.

I wanted to share a few stories from real people who have been affected by congenital heart disease.

Riley was born on July, 6, 2007 via c-section and was 9 lbs 10 ounces.  The  doctors mentioned she had a heart murmur, but it was probably nothing the parents needed to worry about.  However, two weeks later, Riley was no longer eating and was being really fussy.  They took her into her pediatrician, but the pediatrician rushed her to the hospital.  She went through two bypass operations and three cardiac catheterizations.  On her third bypass surgery, after coming to the conclusion that she might need an artificial valve, the doctor was able to successfully make a repair without having to put in the artificial valve.  Riley healed and is now 3 and is a very active girl; however, the parents are still watching her all the time and it will be something they will be concerned about for the rest of her life.

Jack was born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of fallot.  He also had an absent pulmonary valve.  He has undergone multiple open-heart surgeries and survived pulmonary and cardiac aneurysms.  Jack didn’t talk until he was almost 3, but now as a 7 year old he is happy and playful.  However, he still has to undergo many operations.  His mom says that they always have to be open to more surgeries, because he will most likely need more surgeries as his body grows.  Although he is healthy now, the future is uncertain and his parents must always pay attention to his conditions.

Congenital heart disease does not only affect children. As these children grow up and become adults, they still face heart problems and must constantly be aware of their body and how it may react.  Do you have any personal experiences with congenital heart disease or any other ways it may affect an individual and their family?

Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 29, 2010

Heart Problems During the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and families are gearing up to eat lots of fatty foods and get together for the holidays, no matter how much stress may occur throughout the time spent together.  In the United States, there are greater than 50% more heart attacks in winter months than in summer months.  An article, The Deadliest Days, from Discovery Health explains why heart attacks most often occur during the holidays.

Increases in stress levels mean increases in heart attacks.  The holidays are stressful for many different reasons including preparing for the special day of Christmas, packing and traveling, overextending yourself, change of climate, having family visit, or various other reasons.  Stress is one of the hardest risk factors to eliminate from our lives, but it is so important, especially for those with high blood pressure.

Stress is the main factor in the holidays because you can stop eating trans-fat and start walking around more, but you cannot say no to your family members wanting to join you for Christmas.  This makes holiday-related stress (November through the end of December), the most popular time for heart attacks.

Stress is not the only factor relating to heart attacks during the holidays.  Eating more high-fat foods, eating more in general, drinking more alcohol, smoking more cigarettes, and decreasing regular exercise also are affecting the high heart attack rate during the holidays.  With family around and fun things to do, no one wants to actually take care of their body at a time when it is most crucial.

What are some things we can do to prevent heart attacks during the holidays?  Some suggestions include drinking only one glass of eggnog instead of two, skip a holiday party if stress is too high, start your holiday shopping six months in advance, be aware of how much you are eating (especially of high-fat foods), and go on a family walk every morning.  Do you have any other ideas of decreasing heart attack risk during the holidays?

Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 14, 2010

Uncommon Heart Attack Symptoms

Heart attacks do not normally strike without any previous symptoms; however, many of the symptoms that do occur before a heart attack are minor and people do not understand them as symptoms.  The following is a list of heart attack symptoms that you are likely to ignore, but shouldn’t:

1)Indigestion or nausea. Nausea and stomach pain is often overlooked, but these symptoms can range from mild ingestion to severe nausea, cramping, and vomiting.  Women and adults over 60 are more likely to experience this symptom and not relate it to cardiac health.  Most cases of stomach ache and nausea are not caused by a heart attack, but watch for anything that seems out of the ordinary, especially if you have not been exposed to the stomach flu or eaten anything out of the ordinary.

2) Jaw, ear, neck, or shoulder pain. A sharp pain and numbness in the chest, shoulder, and arm is an indicator of heart attack, but many people do not experience heart attack pain this way at all.  Instead, they may feel pain in the neck or shoulder area, or it may feel like it’s running along the jaw and up by the ear. Some women specifically report feeling the pain between their shoulder blades.  Be aware that if the pain comes and goes, making the pain easy to overlook and difficult to pinpoint, you should talk to your doctor.

3)Exhaustion or fatigue. A sense of fatigue that lasts for several days is another sign of heart trouble that is often overlooked.  The fatigue experienced is unusually strong and is the kind of fatigue that does not allow you to get out of bed.  If you are feeling this exhausted, you should talk to your doctor.

4)Breathlessness and Dizziness. When the heart is not getting enough blood, it is also not getting enough oxygen.  When there is not enough oxygen circulating in the blood, the result is feeling unable to draw a deep breath.  Other symptoms can be light-headedness and dizziness.

5)Sleeplessness, insomnia, and anxiety. This is a symptom that doctors cannot explain yet.  Those who have had heart attacks often remember experiencing  a sudden, unexplained inability to fall asleep or stay asleep during the month or weeks before the  heart attack.  Patients remember lying in bed with racing thoughts and sometimes a racing heart.  If you do not normally have problems sleeping and these symptoms are occurring, talk to your doctor.

There are other symptoms that one is likely to ignore listed in this article.  Do you know of any other common symptoms that one may be likely to ignore?

Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 13, 2010

Hours Spent Sitting Related to Heart Disease?

The New York Daily News published an article based on a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealing that the more television a person watches, the more likely they are to die of heart disease, regardless of how physically fit you are.  According to the study, every hour per day spent watching television increases a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by almost one-fifth.

Australian researches followed a group of 8,800 adults for six years, taking into account their individual risk factors.  They grouped them into three categories based on their television watching habits: under two hours of television, two to four hours of television, and more than four hours of television per day.  The group that watched television for more than four hours per day were 80% more likely to die from heart disease based on their sugar tolerance tests and blood samples.  Every hour of viewing increased the risk of all death by 11% and the risk of cancer by 9%.

Our current economy is creating more and more office jobs where people go from sitting in their car, to sitting at work, to sitting at home and watching the television.  The scientists did note that it is not necessarily watching television that increases the risk of death, but any sedentary existence does increase the risk of death due to heart disease.

In order to keep us healthy, maybe we need to create a program to have mandatory lunch breaks at all office jobs and they must do some sort of exercise (maybe a co-worker walk).  What are some other things we can do to stay away from this sedentary lifestyle that so many people exhibit everyday?


Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 5, 2010

Heart-healthy Diet

Heart disease runs in my family.  My dad has high cholesterol and had his first heart attack around the age of 47.  He goes into the doctor regularly to get his heart checked.  I know that I need to cut back on cheeses, red meat, and other high cholesterol foods, but this is one of the hardest things.  The mayoclinic suggests 8 simple steps to prevent heart disease.

1) Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol.  The American Heart Association recommends some guidelines related to saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol.  They recommend less than 7 % saturated fat of your total daily calories, less than 1% trans fat of your total daily calories, and less than300 milligrams a day for healthy adults of cholesterol and less than 200 milligrams a day for adults with high cholesterol.  In order to keep this down, you should choose olive oil, canola oil, margarine free of trans fat, and you should limit butter, lard, bacon fat, gravy, cream sauce, and nondairy creamers.

2) Choose low-fat protein sources. Some of the best sources of protein include lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites.  It is advisable to choose skim or low fat milk, egg whites, fish, skinless poultry, and lean ground meats, and to stay away from whole milk, organ meats, egg yolks, spareribs, bacon, and fried or breaded meats.

3) Eat more vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals, low in calories, and rich in dietary fiber.  They also contain substances found in plants that may help protect you against cardiovascular disease.  Some fruits and vegetables to choose include fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, low-sodium canned vegetables, and canned fruit packed in juice or water.  Some fruits and vegetables to avoid include coconuts, vegetables with creamy sauces, fried or breaded vegetables, canned fruit packed in heavy syrup, and frozen fruit with sugar added.

4) Select Whole Grains.  Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.  Products to look for include whole-wheat flour, whole grain bread, high fiber cereal, and whole grains (pasta, brown rice, and barley).  Grain products to avoid include white, refined flour, muffins, frozen waffles, cornbread, doughnuts, granola bars, cakes, pies, and high-fat snack crackers.

5) Reduce the Salt in Your Food. Eating a lot of salt in your food can contribute to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  Looking for low-salt alternatives is a great way to help lower blood pressure.  Instead of using tables salt, use other herbs and spices and salt substitutes.  Avoid tomato juice, soy sauce, and canned soups.

6) Control your Portion Sizes. Overfilling your plate leads to ingesting extra calories and fat that your body does not need. An appropriate serving size of pasta is 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck.  An appropriate serving size of chicken, meat, or fish is 2-3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.

7) Plan Ahead: Create Daily Menus. Use the six steps above to create menus for your day.  When selecting foods, empahsize whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Choose lean protein sources, and limit high-fat and salty foods.  Use variety in your meals so you do not get sick of eating the same thing everyday.

8) Allow yourself an Occasional Treat. Allow yourself an indulgence every now and then.  A candy bar will not ruin your diet, but do not let a candy bar be the normal.  It is only important that you eat healthy foods most of the time.

Use these 8 steps to prevent heart disease.  These steps can help with weight loss, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.  Do you have any other ideas that have worked for you in your quest to stay healthy?

Posted by: shalisametcalf | November 3, 2010

Tests and Diagnosis

The tests used to diagnosis heart disease vary among patients because there are different types of heart disease.  The doctor will most likely start with some standard tests to see how well your heart functions.  This is often called a physical exam.  The doctor will listen to your heart, check your blood pressure, take your heart rate, and ask about your personal and medical family history.  They may also recommend a blood test to check your cholesterol.  Some further tests to diagnose heart disease include:

  • Chest X-Ray – A chest x-ray is also called a chest film.  It uses a small amount of radiation to produce an image of the heart, lungs, and chest bones on the film.  A doctor will use a chest x-ray to look at the structures of the chest, evaluate placement of devices or tubes that have been previously placed during hospitalization for treatment and monitoring (such as a pacemaker, defibrillators, catheters, or chest tubes), and to diagnose lung and cardiac diseases.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – An electrocardiogram is a test that records the electrical activity of your heart through small electrode patches attached to the skin of your chest, arms, and legs.  A doctor will use an electrocardiogram to assess your heart rhythm, diagnose poor blood flow to the heart muscle (ischemia), diagnose a heart attack, and/or evaluate certain abnormalities of your heart.
  • Holter Monitor – A holter monitor test is an extended electrocardiogram.  If a doctor cannot get enough information from the electrocardiogram, you may have to wear a holter monitor test.  A holter monitor is a small, wearable device that records your heart rhythm.  It is usually worn for one to three days and the device will record all of your heartbeats within that time.  Information captured on the holter monitor is used to figure out any heart rhythm problems.
  • Echocardiogram – An echocardiogram is a test in which ultrasound is used to examine the heart.  It provides single dimension images as well as more advanced imaging.  It is capable of displaying a cross sectional “slice” of the beating heart, including the chambers, valves, and major blood vessels that exit from the left and right ventricle.  This test can show several views of the heart and allows the doctor to look for any problems.Have you or a loved one experienced any of these tests–share your experience?  Do you know of any other relevant tests out there to adequately diagnose heart disease?
    Posted by: shalisametcalf | October 28, 2010

    Gender Differences

    Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women; however, warning signs and treatments are different between men and women.  Gender Differences in Heart Disease: Nation’s #1 Killer Kills Differently explains some of the differences between men and women.  It explains that warning signs are so different between men and women that heart disease in women may be misdiagnosed or missed entirely.

    Heart disease kills more women than men each year.  Women, on average, develop heart disease 10 years later than men.  Women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within one year of their first.  The American Heart Association listed some factors that may explain the disparity in treatment and diagnosis of heart disease between men and women.

    • In the past, many of the major cardiovascular research studies were conducted on men. Results of current clinical studies may help clarify the gender differences that affect pathophysiology, diagnosis and treatment of women with heart disease.
    • Clinicians and patients often attribute chest pains in women to noncardiac causes, leading to misinterpretation of their condition.
    • Both women and men may present “classic” chest pain that grips the chest and spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms.  Women may have a greater tendency than men to have atypical chest pain or to complain of abdominal pain, difficulty breathing (dyspnea), nausea and unexplained fatigue.
    • Women may avoid or delay seeking medical care, perhaps partly due to denial or their lack of awareness of both typical and atypical heart attack symptoms.
    • Since women tend to have heart attacks later in life than men do, they often have other diseases (such as arthritis or osteoporosis) that can mask heart attack symptoms.  Age and the more advanced stage of coronary heart disease in women can affect the treatment options available to physicians as well as the greater mortality of women after heart attacks.
    • Some diagnostic tests and procedures may not be as accurate in women, so physicians may avoid using them.  That means the disease process resulting in a heart attack or stroke may not be detected in women until later, with more serious consequences.
    • The exercise stress test, or stress ECG, may be less accurate in women.  For example, in young women with a low likelihood of coronary heart disease, an exercise stress test may give a false positive result.  In contrast, single-vessel heart disease, which is more common in women than in men, may not be picked up on a routine treadmill test.
    • Noninvasive and less invasive diagnostic tests that are more precise tend to be more expensive. These include thallium, sestamibi, or echocardiographic stress tests.  The predictive value and cost-effectiveness of newer technologies, such as electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT), are not well defined.

    Men and women are different and we need to make sure that women have treatment that works for them, whether or not it is different for men.  Women should be more aware of the symptoms that they may have when experiencing heart problems and know that the sooner they get tested, the better their chance of survival.

    Do you know of any other differences between men and women relating to heart disease?

    Posted by: shalisametcalf | September 24, 2010

    What is Heart Disease?

    Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease,  is any disorder that affects the heart.  Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally.  Some of the most common types of heart disease include:

    • coronary artery disease
    • congestive heart failure
    • cardiac arrhythmias
    • cariomyopathy

    Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

    Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease.  It is caused by narrowing, or clogging, or the coronary arteries that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients.  It can cause angina (chest pain), myocardial infarction (heart attack), and cardiac sudden death (severely abnormal and ineffective beating of the heart).  Coronary heart disease occurs when coronary artery disease results in permanent damage to the heart muscle; however, these two terms are often used interchangeably.

    Congestive Heart Failure

    Congestive heart failure results when the heart muscle is weakened and can no longer pump blood efficiently.  The heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body’s tissues.  It can result from two different problems: Either the heart fails to pump out all the blood that enters its chambers, and/or the heart’s chambers are too stiff and cannot relax enough to fill with blood.

    Cardiac Arrhythmias

    Cardiac arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms.  They can be chronic and relatively harmless, but they can also be more serious, preventing the heart from pumping effectively.  They can contribute to congestive heart failure or cause cardiac sudden death.


    Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump blood and beat at a normal rhythm.  It can be caused by coronary atherosclerosis; however, the cause is often unknown.  It often occurs in young people and the condition tends to progress and worsen fairly quickly.  Cardiomyopathy is the leading reason for heart transplant.

    Want to Learn More?

    Learn more about heart disease:  Genetic Health OR World Health Organization.  Share any information you may have relating to heart disease to spread the word about  this #1 killer.