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NEWS | Jan. 28, 2014

Heart healthy: JBLE pumps in new innovations

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Almost everyone knows a fact or two about heart disease. From school-age to old age, the American populace receives endless data about heart attacks, high blood pressure or any number of statistics and advice from commercials, media and health institutes.

A lot of people brush off the facts, unwilling to put in the work required or the research necessary to make sure they are safe.  However, at Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis, community members have access to new techniques, solutions and care concerning heart health right at their fingertips, thanks to U.S. Air Force Hospital Langley and McDonald Army Health Center.

"Heart health isn't rocket science," said U.S. Army Capt. Phil Lindholm, MCAHC internal medicine chief. "A lot of people get overwhelmed by the prospect of possible heart disease, when really the answers are easy to understand, and patients have years to turn around their health."

In observance of February as National Heart Month, Lindholm and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mario Hartaway, 633rd Medical Squadron aerospace medical technician, showcased a number of new innovations from the American Medical Association concerning the treatment of bad cholesterol and high blood pressure.

In the past, patients diagnosed with cholesterol problems had to meet a certain number based on an average of the population. While this method didn't cause harm to patients, it did prevent them from receiving truly individualized treatment.

"This new system let's the doctor build a profile of the patient based off of their ancestry, diet, exercise and more," said Hartaway. "Specifications from the American Heart Association gives doctors guidelines, which means they can treat their patients faster."

The AHA also advised doctors to use only statin-class drugs to treat cholesterol problems, which means patients take less drugs.

"Statins are a class of drug used as a first-line medication in cholesterol control," said Hartaway. "Since we no longer look for an averaged cholesterol number, we really don't need other medications, which lowers side effects on our patients and simplifies treatment."

The new innovations also include a 10-years-out heart attack estimate to give patients an idea of what could happen if they don't treat themselves right.

"This estimate calculator can be a real wake-up call for people who otherwise ignore their heart health," said Lindholm. "They see what could happen if they don't change their diet, neglect their medication or exercise regularly."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, high-blood pressure is one of the three major causes of heart disease and heart attack, along with smoking and high cholesterol. Big changes within the medical community have changed the core process behind prescribing treatment for patients with high blood pressure.

"Previously, everyone aimed for a blood pressure lower than 140/90," explained Lindholm. "With new research, it has been determined that individuals over 60 years of age need only aim for a blood pressure lower than 150/80, which changes the treatment process fundamentally."

Since senior patients have a different systolic goal, they also need less medicine, much like patients with a high cholesterol.

"Again, less medication means less side effects," said Hartaway, "Although patients will still receive multiple classes of drugs, the doses should be less which means they should suffer from fewer side effects."

When it comes to smoking, the answer is the same from Lindholm and Hartaway; just don't do it.

"Smoking kills your lungs, clogs your arteries and forces your body to work harder, which makes it deteriorate faster," said Lindholm. "It increases blood pressure, which could mean more medication, which leads to more undesirable side effects. Just stay away from smoking."

Answers to other health questions are just as simple, said Hartaway.

"A lot of people are under the impression they have to become serious gym rats to turn the table on heart disease," explained Hartaway. "Really, light exercise and a good diet is all it take to significantly lower your chances of having heart disease."

Lindholm and Hartaway suggested at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking to improve your health, and those who wish to workout more only improve their chances of a healthy heart.  Lindholm also suggested eating a diet in line with the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate program, which evolved from the food pyramid.

"In addition to eating right, a lot of [Service members] have a tendency to indulge in energy drinks and coffee," said Lindholm. "Even though a lot of us are still young, dousing our system with sugar and chemical cocktails leads to heart problems and poor habits down the road."

Making these diet and exercise changes does more than help the heart, it makes a difference in the whole body.

"People with healthy hearts suffer less from dementia, feel less pain, have a better immunity and so much more," said Lindholm. "Your heart is the center of your health, so taking care of it inadvertently repairs your whole body, giving you more energy to do the things you love."