By Jerry Yeatts, F390000
FMCA Executive Director
February is National Heart Month in the United States. With FMCA members on the road to exciting destinations across this continent, we may wish to take a moment to reconsider the familiar quip that the best thing our spouse makes for dinner is reservations at a restaurant. The number-one killer among adults is cardiovascular disease. Stroke is considered the fourth most common killer among adults.
I consider myself lucky. My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 49; my mother also died of heart disease. Both my brother and I experienced symptoms, heeded warnings, and, fortunately, took proactive steps.
The majority of this month’s Executive Director’s Commentary is being provided with permission of the American Heart Association. You can learn more about heart disease and prevention by visiting the American Heart Association’s Web site at www.heart.org.
Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number.
Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.
Take Care Of Yourself
Heart disease is preventable. Here are some top tips from Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer:
- Schedule an appointment with your health-care provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease.
- Quit smoking. Did you know that just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent?
- Start an exercise program. Just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Modify your family’s diet if needed. For example, with poultry, use the leaner light meat (breasts) instead of the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs), and be sure to remove the skin.
- When preparing for a trip in your motorhome, spend a little time planning some heart-healthy menus. Chicken, fish, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains are great items to place in your refrigerator or in your pantry.
Travel And Heart Disease
Traveling to a faraway place doesn’t need to be off-limits because you have heart disease. In fact, a few simple precautions can help make your trip a smooth one. An obvious step is to be as equipped for your vacation or business trip as you would be at home.
“Make sure when you travel that you have your medicine,” said Winston H. Gandy Jr., M.D., chief medical marketing officer and cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta.
Some people feel more comfortable bringing a copy of their original prescriptions in case they lose their medication. That’s fine, Dr. Gandy said, but it’s sufficient to have a list of your medications and your cardiologist’s phone number. It’s also a good idea to let your cardiologist or internist know where you’ll be. Your doctor might know physicians or reputable heart institutes in the area if help is needed.
“Chances are your cardiologist is going to know someone there, either personally or by reputation,” said Dr. Gandy, a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
Do a little research. Be aware of a medical facility at your destination and understand what your health insurance covers. For instance, some insurance policies pay part of the cost of an emergency flight home from abroad. That can help you make quick decisions if a problem arises. Some health-care providers recommend taking a copy of your pertinent medical records with you while traveling.
Traveling To Higher Altitudes
Traveling to higher altitudes shouldn’t necessarily worry you, especially if your medical condition is well-controlled, Dr. Gandy said. But be mindful of your fluid consumption and sodium (salt) intake if you have a history of heart failure, he said. A balanced fluid intake is important with these conditions.
High altitudes can make you more symptomatic if you have coronary artery disease (CAD), because of the thin air and how oxygen is carried in your blood, Dr. Gandy said. He compared it to a train that’s transporting smaller loads and making more trips. The engine — or in this case, your heart — has to work harder, especially if you already have blockage.
Watch out for shortness of breath or other symptoms that could indicate you’re tipping from a stable to an unstable state, he said.
Motorhome Driving Precautions
Sitting immobile during long trips in a motorhome can slightly increase a healthy person’s risk of blood clots in the legs, but associated medical issues usually contribute to it. If someone has peripheral artery disease, also called vascular disease, or a history of heart failure, the clot risk increases. Making frequent stops and walking around when possible is recommended for long trips.
Tell your doctor about your travel plans to get the best advice on what precautions, if any, you may need to take. For example, some people might need compression stockings or additional oxygen. Others might need to watch fluids closely or avoid alcohol.
These simple tips may help you to enjoy the motorhome lifestyle for many more years.
NOTICE OF ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING
Family Motor Coach Association’s Annual Membership Meeting will be held on Sunday, June 22, 2013, during FMCA’s 88th Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase in Gillette, Wyoming.