February 2013

Bracing For The Future

I would like to share a wonderful blog from a friend and colleague, Lori Sours. She was a contributor to our book. Read on:

Two weeks ago, I got braces. I’ve wanted this for at least 40 years, but it never seemed the right time. I thought about it when I was 20, but financed a semester in France instead. I smiled my crooked smile all across Europe. Then there was a move to the East and graduate school. After that, there was a move to a new city and embarking on a new career. After that, marriage, then a young family, living on one small salary, then a move to the West.

And then…..a cancer diagnosis in 2000. During my treatment year, having straight teeth was the furthest thing from my mind. Well, it actually WAS in my mind, vaguely, but it seemed like a superficial thing to “want.” I wanted to get well and stay well, and having straight teeth seemed irrelevant.

Now I’m approaching my 13th anniversary as a cancer survivor. I’m feeling positive about the future. I take good care of myself and am always developing and refining my wellness plan. My family is in a good place. And while there’s really no great time to take on the expense of braces, this is as good a time as any.

So, I was braced up shortly after my 58th birthday. The treatment should take 15 months. By the time I’m 60, I’ll have straight teeth. My dentist assures me that it isn’t just cosmetic. There are real health reasons to go forward with straight teeth, including healthy gums and bones and even heart health. Thirteen years ago, I didn’t allow myself to think about my 60s and 70s. For a few years after my treatment, I was pretty obsessed with doing what I could to prevent a cancer recurrence. Then I eased up on that, as the years have passed, and broadened my view of wellness as I moved into and through my 50s.

My braces are constant reminders that I’m not only treating myself to something that’s always been on my “to do” list, but also putting another piece of my long-term health plan in place.

And on a lighter note, it will be fun to have straight teeth!

No Cure For Heart Disease?

When former President Bill Clinton ended up back in the hospital needing stent placements for heart disease, I read an article stating that we have no cure for heart disease. I have no doubt that after his bypass President Clinton had watched his diet and exercised. Was progression of his coronary disease inevitable? Had he followed the Pritikin Diet (basically a vegetarian and high fiber diet), it might have reversed. However, the diet is really hard one to follow. I don’t fault him for not giving it a try.

I take issue with the fact we do not have a cure for heart disease. I believe that the cure is never to get it in the first place. Had Bill Clinton eaten a healthy diet and exercised his whole life I doubt he would have needed the bypass in the first place. It seems to me that many specialists such as cardiologists and cardiac surgeons get so wrapped up in their abilities to “fix” the problem that there has not been enough emphasis on prevention. Helping people to manage their weight, fitness level, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, stress and smoking isn’t sexy. It is labor intensive and it is tough to do. However, it is effective in the long run and can ultimately provide the cure for heart disease.

February is National Heart Month: What You Should Know

One would think that something as dramatic as a heart attack would be easy to diagnose. However, women are often misdiagnosed when they are having one. This happens in part because they fail to recognize that their symptoms are indicative of a heart attack and because the doctors that they go to may fail to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack as well.

Why is this? For years heart disease was felt to be a man’s disease. It was only relatively recently that physicians and medical researchers realized that it is also very much a woman’s disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

Now we know that women often do not have the same type of heart attack symptoms as men. Men generally present at a younger age than women do with crushing chest pain radiating to the neck or down the arm with sweating, nausea and shortness of breath. They will often describe the pain as “squeezing” or “heaviness,” and may say they feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest. This pain does not stop immediately, but persists for minutes to hours with exercise, and often at rest.

Women’s symptoms

Women are relatively protected from heart disease until menopause (unless they are diabetic). After menopause we catch up with men. So in general women present at an older age with heart disease than men, which is in part why the symptoms may be different. Those who are older in general are less likely to present with chest pain as a heart attack symptom.

Women having a heart attack will most often present with shortness of breath, weakness, overwhelming fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and anxiety. They may experience chest discomfort but they may also have arm pain, jaw pain or indigestion. They also can have pain in the upper back or abdominal pain.

Real women, real stories

I had one woman patient who presented with severe jaw pain and shortness of breath and another who presented with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. The first patient thought she had a tooth infection and the second patient thought she had the stomach flu. Both waited to seek help and both had severe heart attacks that left them with diminished heart function.

Is it possible to have symptoms of early CHD, before it has reached the stage of a heart attack?

Absolutely. The majority of women who have had a heart attack had symptoms the month leading up to the heart attack that they ignored. And many women had recurring symptoms over a longer period of time that they ignored because the symptoms seemed to go away on their own; but they came back. These symptoms include the ones mentioned above under “women’s symptoms” of a heart attack; they also include becoming short of breath, or getting chest symptoms, with any type of exercise that you were able to do before with no shortness of breath; getting more fatigued after doing an activity that previously did not fatigue you; and always feeling fatigued, or run down, even after you have rested.

What Should I Do if I have any of these Symptoms?

Easy: don’t wait to seek help. The take home lesson here is that we all need to listen to our bodies and not motor on if we think that something is seriously wrong. In addition, if we do think that something is wrong and our medical provider is not addressing our concerns, find another provider who will evaluate them. So, does this mean if you are dog tired for a prolonged period of time, or don’t ever to feel rested no matter how much you rest, you should see a doctor? Yes, especially if you have any of the risk factors. Don’t chalk your symptoms up to doing too much or working out too hard. Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you.

If you are having a heart attack the goal is to protect your heart. Remember time is heart muscle. Do not wait- call 911 and if you are not allergic, chew an aspirin while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. Be smart, save your heart and save your life.


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