KMC recognizes heart month

Spc. Todd Goodman
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center

***image1***February is American Heart Month, and the fist-sized muscle on the left side of the chest has a few suggestions for its owner. Among them are get off the couch, lose weight and stop eating fattening foods.
An improper diet is the heart’s biggest enemy, said U.S. Army Capt. Cathy Willingham, head nurse of cardiology services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. She said diet is most important because no one is totally without exercise. An average nurse walks some three miles per shift.
“If you eat whatever you please, you will clog up your arteries and all of the exercise in the world won’t unclog them,” she said.
The three basic principles to heart health are proper diet, exercise and regular check-ups, said Captain Willingham.
“Eating right means you reduce your salt intake, stay away from high-fat foods, limit your serving sizes and eat more fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Aerobic activities performed for 30 minutes, three to four times per week is all the exercise needed to reduce the risk of heart ailments.
The old addage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to heart ailments. According to the American Heart Association, more than 95 percent of Americans who suffer sudden cardiac arrest die before reaching the hospital.
The sooner warning signs of heart trouble are recognized, the better the chance for survival.
The sad thing about heart trouble is that a person can do everything right and still lose to bad luck.
“There are a lot of people with a genetic predisposition to heart problems,” said Captain Willingham. “You could eat healthy your whole life, never smoke a cigarette, exercise, do all of that stuff and still drop dead of a heart attack at 28.”
Heart attack warning signs are different in the fact that many go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed. Only some are the classic, “movie heart attack,” whereby the victim clutches his chest, spins around, makes some dramatic speech, then falls in a clump to the ground.
Cardiac arrest warnings include a sudden loss of responsiveness, irregular breathing, no movement or coughing and no signs of circulation.  
Heart attack symptoms include discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts longer than a few minutes. The pain also can be in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Other signs include nausea or light-headedness, according to the AHA.
Many heart attacks, however, begin slowly, with mild discomfort. Often people aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help.  
People who are at the highest risk for heart trouble are overweight, sedentary people and those with a cholesterol count higher than 200, said Captain Willingham. 
“A lot of the problems I see involve reservists whose typical day involves sitting behind a desk, eating fast food,” she said.
“Then they end up in Iraq, with 120 degree temperatures and 200 pounds on their backs, and their hearts say, ‘time out.’”
LRMC Cardiology Services has seen its business pick up 300 percent since the operations in Iraq began, she said. A new doctor was added, and cardiac catheterizations increased from 175 last year, to 345 this past year.
“Right now, we can breathe,” said Captain Willingham. “But as soon as they stick those new reservists in Iraq, we’ll pick back up again.”