Chester River Hospital Center
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Assess Your Risk of Heart Disease


Sherrie Hill, RN, MSN, CCRN


Mike Usilton didn’t think he was having a heart attack. Why should it be happening to him? He wasn’t really overweight and he had stopped smoking two days ago. And he was very active at work, lifting and moving boxes at the Tri-State Electric Supply Co., Inc. store in Chestertown, which he manages. But Mike Usilton was just one of the 250,000 Americans to suffer a heart attack last year.

During Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, February 9-15, please take a moment to consider if you are at risk for developing coronary heart disease which may lead to a heart attack, bypass surgery, or even death. Men develop heart disease more often than women, but it is the leading cause of death among women. The risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, being overweight, high cholesterol levels, smoking, a family history of heart disease, diabetes, stress and age. These risk factors have been well publicized; yet having one or more of these risk factors usually is not enough to get a person moving in the right direction.

For Mike, the heart attack was a wake-up call which brought him to the Cardiac Rehab program at Kent & Queen Anne’s Hospital. Cardiac rehabilitation is an important tool in the fight against coronary heart disease.

There are three main features to the three month program. The first is education. Patients and their families learn how to modify lifestyles to reduce their risk factors. Emphasis is placed on diet and exercise. For instance patients learn that all oil is fat, but some fats are better than others; they are told to look for oils high in unsaturated fats, like canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, or olive. Smokers learn that just eight hours after their last cigarette the oxygen levels in their blood will return to normal making strenuous exercise easier. Patients also learn about a balanced diet and the value of vitamins like A, C, and E, which researchers believe are helpful in fighting heart disease.

The second feature of cardiac rehabilitation is an exercise program. Exercise is very important in lowering the risk of heart disease. Patients learn about many types of exercise equipment and how to use them. The benefit of walking is stressed. Walking on the street or on a treadmill provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. Individually prescribed exercise programs are developed for each cardiac rehab patient. Patients exercise while connected to a monitor that measures heart rate, blood pressure, and heart rhythm; gradually the level of difficulty is increased.

The third feature of cardiac rehabilitation is support. People with heart problems and their families benefit greatly from sharing experiences with someone who has been through something similar. Laughter too is great medicine!

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Control any risk factor you may have. Learn more about how to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Start doing some type of regular exercise. Avoid high fat foods. Keep stress to a minimum whenever possible. All of these things will help reduce your chance of having a heart attack.

One year later, Mike is exercising three times a week, maintaining a healthy body weight, and following a low fat diet. He hasn’t smoked a cigarette in over a year and his last cholesterol level was 142.


hill.jpg (14602 bytes) Sherrie Hill, RN, MSN, CCRN, is the Cardio-Pulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator at Kent & Queen Anne’s Hospital. She joined the Hospital’s Nursing Department in 1984.