A Heart Healthy Christmas

December 24, 2018

Christmas is often associated with the heart in a philosophical way. It plays a central role in why we gather with family and friends.
But Christmas is also a good time to think of the heart in a literal sense in relation to family and friends. 
Heart disease affects millions of Americans. It is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a heart-releated event, and about one every minute will die from one, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

And did you know that more Americans die from heart attacks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than any other time of the year, according to the American Heart Association?
We all know there is more stress and anxiety this time of year, but the increase is blamed primarily on one thing that doesn’t go away from our area on Jan. 1 - the cold weather!
Cold weather can affect the heart, especially if you have a heart condition. Our bodies work harder to keep warm if their temperatures drop. Sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow or even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain the heart.
That is why this is a good time of year to think about your heart or your loved one’s heart, according to Lori Rancik, nurse case manager of The Women’s Health Center of DuBois, a service of DuBois Regional Medical Center. Rancik is a presenter of DRMC’s Heartcaring, a program from the Spirit of Women network of hospitals that educates patients about making heart-healthy decisions.
If you’re concerned about your loved ones, this Christmas is the perfect time to make a gift of your concern. Make a heart healthy choices for yourself and them. Consider the gift of being prepared. How? 
Put together a heart attack emergency kit, Rancik suggests. “It’s the perfect gift. Its cost is minimal in money. It only takes a little bit of time and effort to prepare.”
What is a heart attack emergency kit? When seconds count, have the following on hand:

  • A bottle of uncoated aspirin in key locations such as a medicine cabinet, near the kitchen sink, in one’s purse and in the car. If heart attack symptoms occur, the person should take one immediately. 
  • Have a list of emergency contact phone numbers posted by all home phones, in cell phones and in one’s wallet.  It should start with 911 and list police non-emergency, fire department non-emergency, the poison control number (800-222-1222), people to call in case of emergencies and one’s physician. If the person prefers a specific ambulance company, list it there. 
  • Prepare a document that contains a list of all of the person’s medications, allergies and a brief medical history of chronic health issues. Have them put it a wallet with a copy of the emergency numbers. 
  • Place pens and papers near telephones. Though not always possible, the person can jot down symptoms in case he or she is unable to communicate when medical help arrives. 

There are also other gift ideas that give peace of mind and heart. 
A medic alert bracelet can announce health issues, especially heart problems, for a patient when a patient cannot speak. They can be ordered from many Internet sites.
Lifeline. Available through DRMC, this service can summon emergency help at the touch of a button worn on a small device. It activates a series of phone calls for help through a landline in case someone has “fallen and can’t get up.” It’s available by calling 375-3251.
Provide services or find a service for those outside chores that lead to heart stress, like shoveling walkways and driveways. Take the time this year to help someone – and keep it up past the holidays.
Buy house numbers that are visible. If an ambulance needs to find a home immediately, are the person’s house numbers visible from the road at 2 a.m. in the worst weather conditions? Many municipalities require visible house numbers – usually about 6 inches high. And don’t just buy them. Make sure they are installed on the house where the owner wants them.
Give heart-healthy snacks. Give foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Give fresh fruit. Make a batch of Mexican hot chocolate mix. Cocoa, the main ingredient found in chocolate, can reduce risk factors for heart disease. The flavonols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that can reduce cell damage, help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. Enjoy a cup and benefit from its antioxidant and blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol regulating properties. 
Combine 1 tablespoon sugar or sugar substitute, 1 pinch ground ginger, 1 pinch ground cloves and 1 pinch cayenne pepper. Put 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa in a separate baggie or container. Add a tag to combine the dry ingredients with 2 cups of skim milk and 1 tablespoon of honey and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3 minutes, remove from heat and add cocoa and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
And most importantly learn and share the signs of a heart attack. Time lost in getting care can be heart muscle lost, Rancik said. The classic symptoms are:

  • Crushing, squeezing, or burning pain, pressure or fullness in the center of the chest; 
  • Pain that may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, the shoulders or the jaw with chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and then returns; 
  • Shortness of breath; 
  • Profuse sweating and/or chills; 
  • A weak pulse; 
  • Nausea and/or dizziness. 

But not everyone will have all the symptoms or possibly any of the “classic” symptoms, Rancik said. “It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and just because what is listed as common is by no means an absolute rule,” she said.
For women, the symptoms can be different or the same as the classic ones listed. For example, there may or may not be chest discomfort. Women may also have:

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort; 
  • Heart palpitations; 
  • Discomfort in other areas, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms (especially the left arm), the back, between the shoulder blades, neck, jaw, teeth, or stomach; 
  • Heartburn or indigestion; 
  • Extreme fatigue. 

“If you even think you or a loved one are having a heart attack, call 911,” Rancik said. “Do not drive your loved one or yourself to the emergency room. Paramedics are trained to intervene if a heart attack is in progress and they just might save your loved one’s life. What would you do if you were driving and your loved one’s heart stopped beating? Don’t take the chance.”