Residents learn about heart health

May 2, 2014
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By Maggie Cohn/Special to the Gazette

A group of Mission Hill residents celebrated Heart Month on Feb. 26 by attending a presentation by Aileen Sauris, a nurse-practitioner from Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Cardiovascular Wellness Service, and Shirley Brooks, from Northeastern University, on heart health.

The presentation was sponsored and coordinated by the Mission Hill Health Movement, and hosted by the Boston Centers for Youth & Families Tobin Community Center.

Sauris engaged her audience on points regarding the specifics of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Heart Disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Strokeis the number threekiller of men and women in the United States. She emphasized the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, as well as heart disease and stroke risk factors.

Things youcan do to decrease risk include: exercise, quit smoking, eat healthy foods, and “know your numbers” (your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, fasting glucose, height and weight).

A sobering fact was that heart disease is a major killer of women, and that number is higher for women than for men. A woman’s heart attack symptoms are different than those of a man, and less well-known. Sauris emphasized the importance of getting help immediately for a heart attack victim; if the symptoms are not correctly identified, further damage may be caused to the heart muscle.

To help people understand how varied symptoms can be, she listed them: Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, burning or squeezing sensation in the chest; pain in the chest, neck, arm or back; unusual shortness of breath; nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sweating; unusual fatigue.

She added, “You may not feel all of these symptoms.” Symptoms vary from person to person, from women to men, and may not all occur. If you have any thoughts that you or someone else may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911.

Sauris then reviewed the signs of a stroke. She used the word “FAST” as a clue:

Face: Droops on right or left side, experiences numbness, sudden drooling;

Arms: Look for difficulty holding things or putting on clothes, numbness, one arm drifts down or won’t go up, may have trouble walking;

Speech: Slurred speech, does not make sense, may not understand what other people are saying, forget how to read or write; and

Time: Time lost is brain lost! Save time and brain cells, go in an ambulance

There are risk factors beyond our control, such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, or family history. However, the good news is that there are risk factors that we can control, including smoking, diet and exercise.

Sauris spoke about how sedentary lifestyles, larger portion sizes, and easy access to foods rich in high fat & cholesterol all contribute to obesity in the U.S.A. She showed slides comparing foods of 20 years ago to the same foods today. For example, a bagel 20 years ago was 3 inches in diameter and contained 140 calories. Today’s bagel is closer to 6 inches in diameter and contains 350 calories!

Shirley Brooks took over at this point, addressing the need to eat healthy foods and offering ways to do so. The Food Pyramid has been replaced by My Plate, indicating that fully half the plate at any meal should be fruit and vegetables, with a small serving of protein (such as meat, beans or tofu) and a small serving of grains or potato.

The group asked many questions: what is a good sized portion? How do I cook foods that may be strange to me or my family? Are there good sugars and bad sugars? (Brooks pointed out that sugars found in whole fruits are broken down in our bodies more slowly than sugar from fruit juice and so is better for us.)

Students from MCPHS University were on hand to test people’s blood pressure and to offer hand-outs filled with useful information. Sauris and Brooks also brought information, including some recipes.

As people left the room, they were able to try their hand at CPR “Hands Only” on a dummy provided by Sauris. With recipes and recommendations in hand, everyone considered how to make their meals more colorful and healthy, and avoid the risks of heart disease.

The writer is the executive director of the Mission Hill Health Movement.

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