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Heart health focus of BMH brunch

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By John Barnhart

    A heart health brunch, sponsored by Bedford Memorial Hospital, began on a light note with a performance by Elvis Presley, locally know as Taylor Rodriguez.

    Rodriguez, who is 15, isn’t old enough to even remember the 20th century at all, let alone Elvis. Nevertheless, his Elvis impersonation is so good that he’s headed for Graceland to perform this summer during the annual commemoration of Presley’s death.
    Dr. Steven Phillips was the guest speaker at the event and he talked about something that could kill you.
    “Heart failure is very common,” he said, adding that it’s the main reason for emergency room admissions for people over 65.
    Dr. Phillips said that the heart failure rate is increasing, but this is actually good news in a manner of speaking. It’s happening because people are living longer — other things aren’t killing them before they get old enough for their hearts to start giving out.
    One type of heart failure he referred to is congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart isn’t pumping enough blood to supply the body’s needs. There are several issues that can cause this. The heart is supplied by three main blood vessels and a blockage in one of these can cause this.    Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also cause this. The blood pressure, over a long period of time, can cause the heart walls to thicken in response and it no longer pumps as efficiently. Failure of a heart valve can also be a factor.
    High alcohol consumption over a long period of time can also damage your heart. Dr. Phillips defined high alcohol consumption as a person who drinks a six-pack of beer every night.
    Obesity is another big problem that can be a factor in heart failure.
    According to Dr. Phillips, the symptoms of congestive heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling in your ankles and feet, dizziness and coughing.
     Heart failure is treated by a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Dr. Phillips said that exercise can strengthen your heart. Decreasing salt intake is also important because sodium causes your body to retain fluid and that’s a problem in heart failure.
    He noted that not reaching for that salt shaker and avoiding salted snacks isn’t the only steps that a person reducing his sodium chloride intake needs to do. It can be hiding in lots of places. Dr. Phillips said that you will need to avoid canned soups, canned vegetables and canned meats. Salt also hides in packaged cereals.
    Medications consist of two main groups, according to Dr. Phillips. Ace-inhibitors are one class. These inhibit the formation of of a hormone by the kidneys that raises blood pressure and constricts blood vessels. Like many prescription medications, it can have dangerous side effects and ace-inhibitors may reduce kidney function.
    The other class are beta blockers. These drugs block the function of cells in the heart that are responsible for the “fight or flight” response. It can also have several side effects, including sexual dysfunction.
    As with all prescription drugs, people taking these should contact their doctor if they start showing symptoms of a serious side effect.
    If people don’t respond to drugs, then doctors can implant an automatic defibrillator or a defibrillator/pacemaker combo. These devices resynchronize the heart.
    Finally, it’s important for a heart failure patient to be actively involved in his treatment. Dr. Phillips said that people who are actively involved in their treatment respond better.