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Fighting heart disease

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FIGHTING HEART DISEASE: RN Gayle Wagner works on her computer inside the Cath Lab at Marion General Hospital. Behind her is RN Penny Sluder, left, and RN Leslie Anderson. According to the Indiana State Department of Health,heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men in the United States.
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STAYING HEALTHY: Melo-Dee Collins, director of Cardiovascular Services at MGH, chats about heart health.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

Heart disease is a growing problem across the country and Marion General Hospital is stressing the importance of awareness to keep Grant County residents informed about their risks.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), more than 19,000 Hoosiers died from cardiovascular disease in 2017, making heart disease the leading cause of death in Indiana. Much of this can be contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle, poorer eating habits and increased stress factors.

“When you look at Grant County, our population is becoming more sedentary,” said Melo-Dee Collins, director of Cardiovascular Services at Marion General Hospital. “We eat more fast food on the bypass, so obesity is definitely on the rise. With obesity then comes (high blood pressure), diabetes and high cholesterol.”

Now, Collins is seeing more and more young people suffering from heart disease as well.

“It used to be heart disease, unless it was a congenital defect, was because of aging,” she said. “But now we’re seeing children with heart disease and it’s because they don’t get out and exercise.”

According to Collins, some symptoms of poor cardiovascular health are shortness of breath and chest pain, followed by sweating. All three of these symptoms can signal a heart attack.

Women sometimes show atypical symptoms and instead of experiencing chest pains, they may experience left arm pain, pain in their jaw and in their shoulder blades, she said.

To improve heart health, Collins recommends exercising, managing stress factors and enjoying a good diet.

At MGH, there are five departments dedicated to heart health.

One department makes up the catheterization and electrophysiology labs. This department takes a more invasive approach to treating abnormalities.

The hospital also has a cardiovascular lab, which provides a non-invasive approach to heart health. This lab uses tools such as ultrasounds, stress testing and is able to supply patients with heart monitors to measure a patient’s heart activity.

There is also a heart failure clinic, which offers long-term treatment for congestive heart failure, and an anticoagulation clinic, which helps people decrease their risk of a stroke.

Finally, there is a cardiac and pulmonary rehab, which focuses on educating patients and helping them exercise.

But while all of these departments are of great importance, so is prevention.

“I don’t feel that we’ll ever decrease the percentage of people with heart disease until we can teach prevention,” Collins said. “The more we’re able to focus on educating parents, and then children, I think that’s where we can get our biggest chance of decreasing heart disease.”

One preventative step is to receive a heart scan, which Collins recommends to those who have reached middle age. 

“A heart screening is good for prevention for a baseline,” Collins said. “If you have a zero calcium score, you’re in great shape. If you have anything above a zero, now’s the time to start working on that.”

A calcium score grades the amount of calcium, or plaque, built up within the arteries.

“If we’re seeing plaque in the arterie, then that’s a good sign that we need to do a stress test or something further to identify if this is significant enough that we need to intervene,” Collins said. “Such as start them on a lipid lowering drug, or even get them to the cath lab to see how much blockage there is.”

Collins recommends those whose parents or grandparents have suffered from a calcium buildup to undergo a heart screen.

According to Cardiologist Dr. Nabi Sharif of St. Vincent Medical Group-Cardiology, more public awareness about heart disease has lead to more people coming to see their local cardiologist.

“Awareness is extremely important because heart disease and heart attacks are the leading cause of dying suddenly in the United States,” Sharif said.

On Feb. 1, the first day of American Heart Month, MGH held their first-ever “Going Red” event to raise money to provide free heart scans to those in need in Grant County.

The event drew in more than 300 people, who heared stories of those suffering with heart ailments and received educational materials on heart disease.

Since 2012, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in Indiana, and the numbers continue to increase according to the ISDH. In the United States, heart disease is also the leading cause of death for women and men.

The increase of cardiovascular disease has created a need for more cardiologists, too, Collins said.

“It used to be that a cardiologist was a cardiologist,” Collins said. “Now everyone is specializing.”

One aspect of this is how much health care evolves over time as studies bring light to new findings.

“Ten years ago I was teaching take an aspirin a day to keep the doctor away,” she said. “Thirty years ago, it was an apple a day. Now they’re saying well, maybe an aspirin isn’t so great.

“What’s evidence based today, may not be evidence based in five more years,” she added.