disease prevention

lifesaving facts about heart failure with Dr. Charles M. Rhodes

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This makes the heart work harder and eventually leads to the symptoms of heart failure. Individuals with heart failure cannot exert themselves because they become short of breath and exhausted.

Based on data from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, at age 40 the lifetime risk of developing heart failure for both men and women is one in five. OLBH cardiologist Charles M. Rhodes, M.D., helps us to understand the causes and risk factors for this life-threatening condition.

Q. What are some of the common causes of heart failure?

Dr. Rhodes: Heart failure is typically caused by blockage of the arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve problems, chronic rapid or irregular heart beat, or damage to the heart after a heart attack.

Q. What are the early symptoms of heart failure?

Dr. Rhodes: Individuals should be alerted to symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing either when active or when resting. Other symptoms include weakness or fatigue, problems breathing when lying down, waking up at night coughing or short of breath, swollen ankles or feet, chest discomfort, dizziness, and/or a “racing” heart beat.

Q. How is heart failure diagnosed?

Dr. Rhodes: There are a number of valuable tests available at OLBH’s Cardiology Department to help determine a possible diagnosis of heart failure. The most important of these tests is the echocardiogram, or an "echo,” which tells us how well the patient’s heart is pumping.

Dr. Rhodes warns that heart failure is a chronic and progressive disease. “Many people don't even realize they have the condition because its symptoms are often mistaken for signs of aging,” Dr. Rhodes added. “Heart failure does not develop overnight - it is a progressive disease that starts slowly and gets worse over time."

With early diagnosis and OLBH’s advanced treatment options, people with heart failure are able to continue enjoying their everyday activities and have an improved life expectancy. If you feel you may have an increased risk of heart failure, speak to your physician about how the OLBH Cardiology Department can help you be diagnosed and begin to overcome the condition. If you are in need of a family physician, the OLBH CareLine can refer you to someone who meets your needs; simply call 606-833-CARE (2273) or e-mail careline@bshsi.org.

lower your heart disease risk

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart attacks and strokes together account for approximately 40 percent of all deaths. Heart disease, which commonly refers to conditions resulting from cardiovascular disease, can be prevented or postponed by lowering risk factors.

controlling risk factors

Certain risk factors of heart disease cannot be changed, such as heredity, age, race, or gender, but many other contributing factors can be controlled. By working together with a physician, an individual can reduce the risk of heart disease by lifestyle changes and/or the use of medications.

lifestyle changes

  • Cigarette smoking: Quitting cigarettes is the most important thing a person can do to prevent heart disease. If a person who smokes stops now, their risk of heart disease will begin to decline to the level of a non-smoker within a few years. Cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease in a number of ways. Smoking causes thickening of the blood, which can lead to clots. It raises the level of carbon monoxide in the blood, taking needed oxygen from the heart and other tissues. The nicotine in tobacco also restricts the coronary arteries, raising blood pressure, and causing the heart to work harder.

  • Elevated cholesterol levels: Most people are familiar with the “good” and “bad” cholesterol. Good cholesterol is HDL, which is associated with a cleansing effect in the blood. Bad cholesterol is LDL, which leaves deposits on the walls of the arteries, slowing the flow of blood and leading to atherosclerosis. Patients can do a great deal to achieve healthier cholesterol levels by controlling their diets. However, cholesterol levels also can be affected by heredity, smoking, and hormones.

  • Exercise and weight: Regular aerobic exercise tones the heart muscle and helps prevent heart disease. Moderate exercises such as stair climbing or brisk walking also are sufficient to benefit the heart. Exercise lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and is usually associated with weight loss.

  • High blood pressure: Hypertension can be lowered by exercise, stopping smoking, losing weight, and limiting the use of salt.

If lifestyle changes are not effective in managing the risk factors for heart disease, it may be necessary to add certain medications to lower blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Speak to your physician before adjusting lifestyle habits. If you do not have a family doctor, the OLBH CareLine can refer you to one who meets your needs; simply call 606-833-CARE (2273).

smoking cessation

OLBH offers a free, 12-week smoking cessation support group using the Cooper-Clayton method and nicotine replacement to assist individuals in kicking the habit of using tobacco products.

The hospital's smoking cessation support group encourages Tri-State residents to overcome nicotine dependency, keying into both emotional and physical needs. The group supports people, as they become non-smokers. Membership to the Human Motion Vitality Center is included during the program.

To register, please call the OLBH CareLine at 606-833-CARE (2273).

playing by the numbers to lower your cholesterol

Having high blood cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart and vascular disease, or for having a heart attack. In fact, the higher your blood cholesterol level the greater your chance of cardiovascular disease and a stroke. When high cholesterol is combined with other risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, your risk for cardiovascular problems increases even more.

what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the body. As the arteries narrow, blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked.

If there is not enough oxygen supplied to the heart, angina, a heart attack, or even death can result.

High cholesterol does not produce symptoms. That is why it is important to have your cholesterol level checked. Everyone age 20 and older should have a fasting (not eating or drinking for 12-14 hours) lipoprotein profile to determine exact cholesterol levels, at least once every five years.

A “lipoprotein profile” gives information about:

  • Total cholesterol

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol” - the primary source of cholesterol buildup

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol” - which helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries

  • Triglycerides - another form of fat in the blood 

evaluating your risk of cardiovascular disease

Generally, the higher your LDL level and the more risk factors you have for cardiovascular disease, the greater the chances you will develop cardiovascular disease. In addition to a high LDL level, the risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • Low HDL cholesterol

  • Family history of early cardiovascular disease

  • Age - 45 or older for men; 55 or older for women

lowering LDL cholesterol

You can lower cholesterol by:

  • Eating fewer high fat foods (particularly those high in saturated fats)

  • Reducing the amount of cholesterol in your diet

  • Losing weight, if you are overweight

  • Increasing the amount of soluble fiber in your diet (beans, oat bran, melons, and dried fruits)

  • Exercising regularly

For more information about lowering your cholesterol, speak to your family physician. If you do not have a physician, utilize OLBH’s free physician referral service by calling the OLBH CareLine at 606-833-CARE (2273).

high blood pressure and vascular disease

checking your blood pressure:

  • Check blood pressure when you first wake up and before dinner

  • Sit in a chair with back support for 3-5 minutes without talking. Rest arm on a firm surface, such as the arm of the chair, and keep it at heart level.

  • Do not drink or eat anything containing caffeine or alcohol at least 30 minutes before checking blood pressure.

  • Do not smoke 30 minutes before taking blood pressure.

  • Do not cross your legs while taking blood pressure.

  • Record blood pressure readings and report these to your doctor at your next visit.

Approximately 25 percent of the United States' population has been diagnosed with hypertension - high blood pressure, a major risk factor of vascular disease. Because the condition is so prevalent, and because it often comes with few if any noticeable symptoms, some patients find it hard to take treatment seriously. Studies show that only 21 percent of those being treated keep their condition under control. It's a mistake that could be fatal. 

If it is detected and treated effectively with lifestyle modifications and medications, high blood pressure can be lowered indefinitely. If left uncontrolled, hypertension can cause severe damage to virtually every part of the body - most notably the heart, the brain, and the kidneys.

Heart: Dealing with high blood pressure over the long term puts a severe strain on the heart and the entire cardiovascular system. Chronically high blood pressure nearly always leads to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. With the narrowing of the artery, blood flow becomes even more difficult and blood pressure increases even more. "When a blood vessel leading to the heart becomes fully or partially blocked, the result is angina - a heart-related chest pain. The heart is crying out for oxygen, and if the blockage becomes great enough, or if a clot forms on the blockage, the result is a heart attack.

Brain: The most common type of stroke is a brain attack - caused by a full or partial blockage of a blood vessel serving the brain. When any part of the brain fails to receive the blood it needs, it dies and the result is usually death or severe disability. Another type of stroke strongly linked to uncontrolled hypertension occurs when a damaged blood vessel ruptures and leaks blood into the brain. In most cases, this causes a violent headache followed by a collapse into unconsciousness. Whatever the symptoms, a stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.

Kidneys: The effect of elevated blood pressure is particularly damaging to the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, interfering with the organs' ability to filter blood effectively. Severe hypertension can damage the kidneys in a fairly short period. As kidney damage occurs, it makes blood pressure spike even higher. Hypertension is the second leading cause of kidney failure.

Detected early, hypertension can be successfully controlled for many years. Many effective medications are available, and should be accompanied by a change in lifestyle: regular exercise; weight loss; a heart-healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products; and reduction of sodium intake to less than 2,000 milligrams daily.

For more information on high blood pressure and its risks, speak to your family doctor. If you do not have a family doctor, the OLBH CareLine can refer you to one who meets your needs; simply call 606-833-CARE (2273).

reducing risks

…of Stroke
Proper attention to controllable risk factors can reduce the chance of a stroke. Risk factors that lead to stroke include high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, excess weight, and diabetes. The chance of having a stroke also increases with age and males have a slightly higher stroke risk than females.
…of Cardiovascular Disease
Atherosclerosis is the main cause of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis, a build up of plaque on the wall of an artery, can lead to clogged arteries in any part of the body. Normally, there are no symptoms of atherosclerosis until one or more arteries are so clogged with plaque that blood flow is severely reduced, or a blood clot forms, completely blocking an already narrowed artery. Some plaques can rupture or burst causing blood clotting inside the artery. If a blood clot totally blocks the flow of blood through an artery, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

There are a number of risk factors which can raise your chances of developing atherosclerosis. The most common factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, a family history of atherosclerosis, and being physically inactive. The more risk factors an individual has, the more atherosclerosis will develop. The most important way to prevent cardiovascular disease is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Individuals should adopt a healthy diet, have regular physical activity, stop smoking and maintain a healthy weight to prevent cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis.

….of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Heart disease and stroke are recognized by the public as important signs of cardiovascular disease. Another potentially fatal symptom of cardiovascular disease and the effects of hardening of the arteries is an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Approximately one in every 250 people over the age of 50 will die of a ruptured AAA.

Usually discovered by accident in a physician's office, an aortic aneurysm is a weak or damaged area of the aorta - the body’s largest artery. As blood flows through the aorta, the weak area bulges like a balloon and forms an aneurysm. If this bulging becomes too large, it may burst or rupture causing a life-threatening situation that requires immediate emergency care. Fortunately, when an AAA is diagnosed early it can be successfully treated and rupture is prevented.

The OLBH Vascular Center is equipped with superior technology to determine if an aneurysm is present. By utilizing special tools and computer imaging, the center’s specialized professionals can examine the body’s arteries and diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Treatment is then planned based on the size of the aneurysm and its relationship to other arteries within the body. Aneurysms exceeding a diameter set by your primary care physician will require surgery. Small aneurysms may require no immediate treatment other than checking the aneurysm regularly to be certain it does not grow.

AAA can affect anybody, but most commonly occurs in men between the ages of 40 and 70. Even children can develop them as a result of trauma or certain medical conditions. Contributing risk factors include hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, inflammation or infection and cigarette smoking.
Limiting alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, lowering the amount of cholesterol and salt in one’s diet, exercising, and losing weight can help prevent aneurysms.

If you are affected by any of the above risk factors for stroke, cardiovascular disease or aneurysms, please speak with your physician about detection and early treatment methods available at the OLBH Vascular Center. If you do not have a family physician, please contact the OLBH CareLine at 606-833-CARE (2273) for a family physician referral.

My Chart

OLBH CareLine

iPhone application

     Download our iPhone App

twitter feed

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System