“Beginning Care with a Call”

By David Mortimer, Sacred Heart Hospital, Communications Department

According to the American Heart Association, over 16 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, over half a million Americans suffer a stroke each year.

Dialing 911 can be the best thing you (or a loved one) can do for your heart or your brain in the event of stroke or heart attack symptoms. Accessing prompt care is as close as a cell phone or telephone and can help prevent death or reduce disability.

Earlier this year, area EMS providers and the emergency departments at Sacred Heart Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Luther Midelfort collaborated on the implementation and training of new technology that allows area ambulances to transfer live EKG (electrocardiogram) data to area hospital emergency departments. The program enables emergency medical technicians to gather EKG readings at the scene and send information to an area hospital in real time to diagnose the problem quickly and efficiently.

Getting patients quickly to specialized care, including by air medical transport, has been shown to shorten hospital stays, decrease mortality and improve patient outcomes for cardiac and stroke patients. The key is taking action right away.

This past year, thanks to investments in wireless technology in the Chippewa Valley, area healthcare and EMS providers launched a “Care Begins with the Call” educational campaign to Promote 911 usage.

“Fewer than 50 percent of emergency room patients arrive at the Emergency Department in an ambulance,” says Eau Claire Fire Department Deputy Chief Rick Merryfield, who oversees emergency medical services for the department. “Critical treatment time is lost. We know that in many cases, such as stroke, symptoms can be reversed. We can improve quality of life statistics by encouraging people to call 911 when they first sense symptoms of heart attack or stroke. The care really does begin with the call to 911.”

Reluctance to call for help can delay emergency care. Some people have admitted, “We didn’t want to bother the ambulance service,” or “I feel embarrassed coming to the ER if it’s not really serious.” In a stroke or heart attack, however, time is brain or heart muscle.

Dr. Tom Peterson, Sacred Heart Hospital emergency physician and Eau Claire Fire Department Medical Director, “Our EMS crews are trained to respond to those calls and would much rather err on the side of caution, considering the documented benefits of early treatment.”

Emergency department personnel appreciate the new technology. “While patients are in transport, the hospital is made aware of the patient’s situation and real-time vitals, and we are able to prepare for their arrival,” says Sue Johnson, RN, Emergency Services coordinator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls. “When we have a walk-in patient, time is needed to triage the situation and begin basic treatments that would have started in the ambulance.”

Heart Attack Risk Increases in Winter

According to Archives of Internal Medicine,* the risk of having a heart attack during the winter months is twice as high as in the summertime. Here are a few reasons stated:

• Cold weather. When a person’s body gets cold, the body’s automatic response is to narrow the blood vessels. Cutting down on blood flow to the skin means the body doesn’t lose as much heat. But for people who already have clogged arteries, the narrowing of the blood vessels raises the risk that one will become blocked, and could trigger a heart attack.

• Snow shoveling. Shoveling snow is very strenuous, causing the heart to work harder and raising your blood pressure. People who never exercise often go out and shovel snow in the winter. So, if you must shovel, push the snow rather that lift it, stay warm doing it, and take breaks. If you are overweight, or over 55 years old, or have suffered a previous heart attack, don’t shovel at all.

• Flu. The flu is another culprit responsible for the winter surge in heart attacks. A flu infection can increase blood pressure, and stir up white blood cell activity—all bad news for your heart. Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot.

*Archives of Internal Medicine is a bi-monthly professional medical journal published by the American Medical Association.

Heart Health Smarts

by Diane Wolfe

February has been declared Heart Health Month in America by the American Heart Association. We are encouraged to discover the power of being heart-healthy and taking care of ourselves.

Good heart health depends upon lifestyle choices we make every day. With healthcare costs and coverage becoming a real concern for more and more people, individual life choices have an even greater impact on our future and finances. While in the past, people may have waited for medical evaluation and testing to confirm a need for concern, today’s mentality is becoming one of more proactive and preventative approaches.

Most people are aware of the role diet and exercise play in our overall health, and that a healthy lifestyle is our best weapon against heart disease. According to the AHA, adopting the simple steps below as part of your life will have long-term benefits to your health and heart.

First, use up at least as many calories as you take in each day. Know how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain, reduce, or increase your weight. The number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level.

Adjust the amount and intensity of your physical activity to match your weight goal. Start off slow and keep a routine going. Stretch before and after exercising, and stay hydrated with water all day. Most importantly, consult a doctor before starting an aggressive exercise regimen.

Second, eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are lower in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and blood pressure. Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower blood cholesterol and help you feel full, and eat less. Eat fish twice a week whenever possible. Eating salmon, trout, or herring may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.

As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these AHA recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added fats.
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat or low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Keep an eye on your portion size. One fist full is typically one serving size, enough for one person.
  • Chew often and eat slowly!

Use healthy methods of food preparation, too. Use “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime” and trim the fat off the edges before cooking. Use cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”; they usually have the least fat. With poultry, use the leaner light meat, like breasts, instead of fattier dark meat like legs and thighs. Make recipes with egg whites, instead of egg yolks. Two whites = one yolk. Instead of frying foods, use cooking methods that add little or no fat, like stir-frying. Use a wok to cook veggies, poultry, or seafood in vegetable stock, wine, or small amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Avoid high-sodium seasonings like teriyaki or soy sauce. When roasting, use a rack in the pan so the meat doesn’t sit in its own fat drippings. Try basting with wine, tomato juice or lemon juice. Grilling and broiling are both great fat-free cooking approaches. Bake foods in covered cookware with some sort of liquid, instead of pan frying meat or fish. Steam your vegetables; they will retain more flavor and nutrients.

Third, lead a healthy lifestyle. This is a vital weapon in the battle against heart disease.

Stop smoking today and avoid second hand smoke. Limit your intake of alcohol; excessive alcohol consumption can deplete your body’s supply of vitamins and nutrients.

Identify and reduce stress and anxiety in your life. Surround yourself with happy people! Keep your weight within recommended limits; obesity is the leading cause of heart disease. Get enough sleep each night (6-8 hours is recommended). Visit your doctor to discuss these lifestyle choices.

Ask yourself what you are doing to help your heart along this winter and throughout the year. Make the lifestyle changes necessary to protect yourself against heart disease. No matter what your age, take a long-term interest in your heart before it’s too late – you and those who love you will be glad you did.
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