Take it to heart Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women with 700,000 dying from the disease each year in the U.S. and 7 million worldwide. One American dies every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Human costs are compounded by the financial costs of $260 billion, including health care services, medications and lost productivity. Heart attack, the most visible sign of heart disease, strikes about 1.1 million people each year. More than 40 percent of them will die.

Executives are particularly susceptible. Stress, inactivity, lack of proper nutrition, avoidance of doctor visits and being “just too busy” to adopt healthy lifestyles make heart disease a serious problem among management and staff.

There is help. Smart Business spoke to Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers, and past chair of the California Hospital Association, to learn more about the signs and symptoms of heart disease and how hospitals, communities and employers can collaborate to combat the disease.

Is it primarily a man’s disease?

More women than men die from heart disease. One in five women have cardiovascular disease, which kills more women than all forms of cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes, accidents and AIDS combined.

What do MemorialCare physicians say about heart attack symptoms?

Our cardiovascular specialists say that many women as well as those with diabetes experience different heart attack symptoms than men. Symptoms of an impending heart attack can be so subtle that women may not suspect they are in trouble.

When they actually have a heart attack, symptoms may include nausea or dizziness; uncomfortable pressure, tightness, squeezing, fullness or heaviness in the chest that does not go away in a few minutes; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain radiating up to the shoulders and neck or down the arms or back; and/or shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Men, on the other hand, typically say they feel crushing chest pain, like an elephant is sitting on their chest.

How preventable is heart disease?

Studies among people with heart disease have shown that lowering high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure reduces the risk of dying of heart disease, having a nonfatal heart attack and needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Studies among those without heart disease demonstrate that lowering high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

What are some preventive measures?

Experts emphasize the need to maintain a healthy weight and eat foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fat. Reducing stress, controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important, plus getting regular checkups and screenings and following your doctor’s advice.

What can be done to help create a healthy workplace?

While it’s not easy committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle is your best defense against a number of diseases. The workplace is a source of many roadblocks to better health. Experts suggest starting with small steps, like replacing the cookies and candy snacks with fruits and vegetables and encouraging staff to take the stairway instead of the elevator. An incentive program can reward employees for losing weight and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Lunchtime walking groups and demonstrations of exercises to do at the desk can also reap benefits. Engage employees’ entire family in prevention programs to extend healthy habits at home. And we know that healthier employees are happier and more productive.

Where do we start?

Take steps to create a healthier work force. Connect with local hospitals, public health programs, health plans and the American Heart Association to collaborate in offering programs, screenings and lifestyle advice to employees — and that includes management. Post healthy lifestyle reminders throughout the workplace, and link your Web site and intranet to health prevention sites.

The MemorialCare Medical Centers’ Web site (memorialcare.org) has in its Your Health section health care tools and calculators that help you learn your risk for a number of diseases and includes a women’s risk assessment. There are free health care guides on our Web site for heart attack symptoms, heart healthy eating and women’s heart matters. Like many hospitals, MemorialCare Medical Centers offer a number of health education and prevention programs at your worksite and other convenient locations as well as comprehensive heart evaluations and executive physicals at a number of our facilities.

BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and past chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at arbuckle@memorialcare.org or (562) 933-9708. MemorialCare Medical Centers include Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Anaheim Memorial Medical Center, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach.