Celebrating Heart Health: Part I

The Heart Of The Matter

Posted: February 1, 2014

Margie Frye (left) and Betty Ann Beasley, both of whom have been affected by heart disease, entered into a Belk heart health contest held last year. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R, File)
This year, the annual Move Your Phi’t 5k — hosted by the James Madison University chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority — will be held Feb. 22 at the JMU Festival Conference and Student Center, 1301 Carrier Dr. in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R, File)

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series celebrating American Heart Month. In honor of that designation, each weekend in February will highlight a component of cardiac care.

Local cardiologist Dr. Brad Rash starts off his talks with some basic statistics regarding national cardiovascular disease.

The numbers are, after all, quite staggering, and help those in attendance to understand the severity of the topic at hand.

Cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, kill more than 400,000 women each year in America, making it more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.  

To further drive home that point, he asks his audience to consider this: Cardiovascular disease kills 11 times more women than breast cancer in this country, he says, it is the leading cause of death for both women and men.

Nationally, more than one million patients are admitted to hospitals each year for congestive heart failure, he added.  

“It’s really important for folks to know [these facts],” Rash said. “It gives them motive …  to change their lifestyles.”

Rash, a Sentara-RMH Heart and Vascular Center cardiologist, has a special interest in women’s heart disease. He opened a clinic on women’s heart disease prevention at Sentara RMH Medical Center’s Funkhouser Women’s Center in July, and about 60 to 65 percent of his patients are female.

Heart disease itself, however, kills roughly the same number of men and women each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Talking Prevention
Though the numbers are sour, sometimes shockingly so, Rash points out the silver lining.  

“One of the positive things about heart disease is that it is preventable,” he said.

“The absolute No. 1 recommendation is not to ever smoke, and if you are currently smoking, to quit right away,” he said, highlighting another statistic.

Guns are related to about 85 deaths in America daily, whether homicide or suicide occurs, whereas smoking is linked to an estimated 1,500 deaths every day.

“Many of those are related to heart attack and stroke,” Rash said.

In addition, he recommends that people know what their risk factors for cardiovascular disease are. Cholesterol levels, for example, should be checked starting at age 20, he said, and about every five years after that, if the numbers are OK.

“Two things that are often talked about [but] always underestimated are diet and exercise,” he added. “That’s something that we hear from a young age, that diet and exercise are important, but we really have hard clinical evidence to show that both prevent early death from heart attack and strokes.”

As for diet, he recommends the Mediterranean diet, which is heavy in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and light on meat — suggesting only fish in that category.

“It has been shown in actual clinical studies to reduce stroke and heart attack and certain types of cancers,” he said, adding that one study published last year showed that, even compared to a low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet results in a 30-percent reduction in stroke rate.

“There really is something to a change in the types of healthy fats that we’re eating,” he said. “Moving away from the unhealthy trans fat or saturated fats, [and] really trying to reduce fats and carbohydrate calories in general.”

The signs of an impending heart attack are different for women and men, he said, but both genders usually eventually experience similar symptoms, including chest pressure or tightness in the center of the chest that can radiate out.

Women also often experience shortness of breath, severe fatigue and back pain, he added.

Upcoming Events
On Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m., Rash and Dr. Jerome McDonald will lead a free presentation, titled “Matters of the Heart,” at the James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center.

McDonald, a cardiothoracic surgeon, will discuss minimally-invasive cardiac and thoracic procedures, while Rash will talk about the controversy surrounding the use of Statins to treat and prevent heart disease.

Statins are a class of drug used to lower cholesterol levels, and they are the top prescribed drugs in the world, Rash said. Lipitor and Crestor are two examples.

“I just want to be completely objective and show the data and show folks why we do what we do in an objective way,” Rash said about his upcoming presentation.

Though the event is free, anyone interested in attending should register by calling Healthsource at (540) 564-7200.

“Matters of the Heart” is just one of several local events slated for American Heart Month.

The RMH Wellness Center at 2500 Wellness Dr. in Harrisonburg is holding a Walk for Heart Health on Feb. 4.

If Rockingham County schools are on a two-hour delay or closed that day, the event will be rescheduled for Feb. 11. No membership is required, and those who wish to participate can simply show up for the free event anytime from 8:30-11 a.m.

For more information, call the Wellness Center at 434-6224.

Harrisonburg Macaroni Kid, the local branch of a national organization that oversees free weekly newsletters highlighting family-friendly events and activities in communities across America, has joined together with Skyline Café and Art to hold an event benefiting the local chapter of Mended Little Hearts of the Shenandoah Valley.

Mended Little Hearts is a national nonprofit that supports children with congenital heart defects and their families.

The free event, dubbed “Kids 4 A Cause,” will take place Feb. 21 from 6-8 p.m. at the café located at 60 Mt. Olivet Church Road in Elkton. It will feature children’s activities, such as face painting and card making for children associated with Mended Little Hearts, and family-friendly entertainment.

Skyline Café and Art will donate 10 percent of the evening’s sales to Mended Little Hearts, and all donations and half of proceeds from the 50/50 raffle will benefit the organization.

Skyline Café will also accept a donation of care bag items during the event and throughout the month of February. The bags will go to families who have a child in the hospital for an extended stay.

“This is a brand new event for us,” said Tiffany Jackson, director of marketing for Harrisonburg Macaroni Kids. “We just really hope to get the community involved in this.”

For more information, contact the café at (540) 289-9022 or email Jackson at tiffanyj@macaronikid.com.

Explore More Discovery Museum is hosting an event focused on American Heart Month for its Second Saturday Family Learning series Feb. 8 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The museum will have hands-on activities for children, exercises led by RMH Wellness Center professionals and healthy snacks. The event is free with paid admission or membership.

“Obviously, we know that exercise is important for children,” said Lisa Shull, founding executive director of the museum. “It doesn’t have to be something that’s boring or too regimented.”

For more information, contact the museum at (540) 442-8900.

For information on more local heart-related events in February, see the info box.

Local American Heart Month Events
Feb. 4: “Walk for Heart Health.” Walk around the indoor track at the Sentara RMH Wellness Center, 2500 Wellness Dr. in Harrisonburg, from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Free, no membership required. For more info, call 564-5682.

Feb. 7: National Wear Red Day. The community is asked to wear red to show support for women battling heart disease.

Feb. 8: “Healthy Hearts” event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Explore More Discovery Museum will feature hands-on activities for children, exercise led by Wellness Center professionals and healthy snacks. Free with paid admission or membership. For more info, call 442-8900.

Feb. 11: “Matters of the Heart” presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the JMU Festival Conference and Student Center, 1301 Carrier Dr. in Harrisonburg. Drs. Brad Rash and Jerome McDonald will speak. Free, registration required. Call Healthsource at 564-7200.

Feb. 21: “Kids 4 A Cause” event at Skyline Café and Art, 60 Mt. Olivet Church Rd. in Elkton, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., will feature children’s activities and family-friendly entertainment. Proceeds will benefit Mended Little Hearts of the Shenandoah Valley. Free.

Feb. 22: Alpha Phi’s Annual “Move Your Phi’t” 5K. JMU’s Alpha Phi Sorority hosts this yearly event at the JMU Festival Conference and Student Center, 1301 Carrier Dr. in Harrisonburg.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com.

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