Painting the town red with heart disease prevention

How Polk is taking steps to increase awareness and lower your risk

Bill Mutz thought he was just going to help with a demonstration when he volunteered for an ultrasound at a Lakeland Leadership Cardiology group. But what he learned actually helped him: The ultrasound showed blood was not flowing properly through his heart’s mitral valve.

Under a cardiologist’s care, Mutz’s condition was stable for two or three years. Then, when hiking on a snowy mountain in California, his heart could no longer pump blood efficiently. “I had to not move just to be able to get enough oxygen,” recalls Mutz, now 60 years old.

Mutz had his mitral valve repaired about nine years ago. “Now I work and try to eat in a more healthy pattern,” says Mutz, a partner in Lakeland’s Greenovative Homes.

Heart disease was the leading cause of death in Polk County in 2012, Florida Department of Health data shows. Some 24.1 percent died of heart disease, while another 4.7 percent died of stroke. Cancer was the No. 2 killer, with a 23.5 percent death rate.

About one in four deaths nationally is caused by heart disease, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. The good news is thatage-adjusted deaths from cardiovascular disease have declined 60 percent since 1950, according to the United States National Library of Medicine.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” says Dr. John G. Canto, a board-certified cardiologist and director of Cardiovascular Prevention, Research and Education at Lakeland’s Watson Clinic. Nutrition and exercise are central to our health. “Lifestyle always trumps medications,” he says.

Diet is the most common risk factor for heart disease and stroke among adults, according to the 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. In Florida, 73.8 percent of those surveyed ate fruit and vegetables less than five times a day while 62.1 percent were overweight, according to the CDC. Some 52.7 percent had not exercised within the previous 30 days. Thirty-seven percent reported high blood cholesterol levels and 28.2 percent had high blood pressure. Some 19.3 percent were smokers; 8.7 percent had diabetes.

Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, more fish and whole grains are standard in heart-healthy diets, says Dr. Joy Jackson, medical director of Florida Department of Health in Polk County. Also recommended are nuts, beans, seeds, and less salt/saturated fat. “There’s a shift medically more towards prevention,”she observes, explaining new research is making it possible to revise and pinpoint strategies based on age, gender, race, and genetics.

Warning signs for a heart attack include chest pain, chest pressure, shortness of breath with exertion, and sometimes decreased exercise tolerance with shortness of breath, she points out.

Taking care of your heart should start with a “health care home,” says Dr. Daniel Haight, vice president of community health at Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC). “A good relationship with your healthcare providers allows you to prevent heart disease before complications or hospitalizations occur.”

Your provider’s office is a place to learn about your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as share family history and personal habits that may reveal your risk for heart disease. “Hospitals nationally are going beyond just caring for heart attacks and congestive heart failure during the hospital stay. It is now becoming even more important to take extra steps to avoid readmission for the same or similar problem,” Dr. Haight explains. “For example, ensuring that patients understand how to remain healthy before discharge, along with obtaining a follow-up appointment with their primary care physician, are priorities. Problems with medication can also cause heart disease to become worse.”

The hospital’s Family Health Center,which opened more than a year ago across the street from LRMC’s Emergency Room, is working to manage blood pressure, control diabetes, and help with other cardiovascular disease risk factors. It assists patients through the county’s Health Care Plan as well as those who are discharged from the hospital or who are diverted from the Emergency Room for non-emergency treatment.

Less invasion procedures, meanwhile, are being offered to heart patients. Placing a stent in a blocked artery to improve blood flow is not automatic like it used to be, Dr. Canto says. Instead, blockages are quantified to determine if a stent is really needed. “That’s what is really hot in the interventional side of things,” he says.

Doctors are closing holes in the heart, which was virtually unheard of, without sending the patient to surgery, he adds. Heart valve surgery is being performed without opening the heart. A new clip is being used to treat leaky mitral valves.

New guidelines for blood cholesterol-lowering drugs may increase the number of people treated, while new blood pressure guidelines may lower these drugs for the elderly, he adds.

“The ABCS are still important in prevention,” he stresses. “If you can set aside 30 minutes [to exercise] you’re way ahead of the curve in the United States.”

Dr. Canto was lead author in a research study published in American Journal of Cardiologyon Jan. 15, which showed more women die of coronary heart disease than breast cancer, with the risk for heart disease rising as women age. The risk of death from breast cancer is higher prior to menopause, however. February is American Hearth Month;the CDC has a 28-day plan for a healthier heart at February 7 is recognized as National Wear Red Day® by community groups nationwide to encourage women to protect their hearts.

The American Heart Association is working locally through fundraisers like its 2014 Polk Heart and Stroke Ball April 12 at the Lakeland Center, chaired by Mutz, and the Open Your Heart children’s campaign. Learn more at The annual Polk Heart Walk raised more than $95,000 through 1,000 walkers and 20 participating companies last October.

Through Polk Vision, a community partnership,Polk residents already have been working to combat obesity, in hopes of reducing heart disease and diabetes as well. Its Building a Healthier Polk initiative is promoting lifestyle changes rather than diets. It would take “several years” to determine its effectiveness, says Dr. Jackson, who is part of the initiative.

Mutz, past chair of LRMC’s Board of Directors, likes to use a wearable electronic monitor to log his steps daily and record calories burned and hours slept. “I think it’s very healthy to have something that monitors. The data doesn’t lie,” he says.

Mutz advises others to make healthy choices every day. “Almost half of the heart-related issues are a function of choice,” he explains. “Our weight and what we eat, and smoking and exercise are the principal factors for reversal.”



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