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Heart Disease Survivor, Physician – One Woman’s Story to Encourage Prevention

February 10, 2014

by OB/GYN Anne Stohrer MD

Morrisville – “Don’t follow me down this road.” I say this phrase at least five times a day to patients, friends, and colleagues to encourage them to reduce their heart disease risk. Heart disease kills more people in the United States than all cancers combined. I have walked the road to heart bypass surgery, and luckily am still here to spread this message.

Several weeks before my annual checkup in October of 2012 I began experiencing a deep, burning pressure in my chest. It felt like indigestion. During my
checkup, I mentioned the pain to my doctor. She immediately set me up
for a nuclear stress test. Based on the results of the test I was scheduled
for cardiac catheterization the next day. I was diagnosed with severe
multi-vessel disease and was not a candidate for a stent. I had quadruple bypass
surgery just days later.

The statement “prevention is better than treatment” carries a lot of weight. While there are some risk factors for heart disease that cannot be changed: age, gender and family history, others can through healthy lifestyle choices. Here are the risk factors that you can change right now to lower your risk of heart disease:

  • High blood cholesterol can be changed by a healthy diet, exercise, medications.
  • High blood pressure can be changed by a healthy diet, exercise, medications.
  • Obesity can be changed by a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Inactivity can be changed by exercise.
  • Diabetes can be changed by a healthy diet, exercise and medications.
  • Smoking can be changed by stopping smoking.

The message over and over again is that a healthy diet, exercise and appropriate medications can lower your risk of heart disease. The question is, how to do it? It is easy to understand, yet very hard to do. I know.

Medications are the easiest component. Listen to your provider. Take all medications as prescribed and follow through with all recommended blood testing as outlined.

Try to exercise is at least 150 minutes a week. That’s 30 minutes a day for five days each week. Aim for moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, with two days a week of muscle strengthening activities such as free weights. What I tell my patients is that we have to start where we are. Begin by parking your car in the farthest parking space at the grocery store and walking into the store. Slowly increase your activity, and over time you too will be reaching that goal of 150 minutes each week.

Diet and weight loss remain my personal challenge, and the challenge for most people. Our food culture is one of high fat and high carbohydrates; finding healthy alternatives can be difficult. A meeting with a nutritionist is helpful for some. Joining a weight loss support group such as Weight Watchers works for others. There are many books, websites, recipe groups at the public library, and other resources that are helping people take the journey towards health. Talk with your provider, your friends, whoever you think is most likely to aim you towards healthy eating.

Since my surgery I have made many positive lifestyle changes. I enjoy exercising! I am an outdoors person and love snowshoeing this time of year. As I said earlier, I am still challenged with diet and weight loss, but have made significant changes in my eating habits. Today, I enjoy my fruits and vegetables, and exploring new heart healthy recipes.

You can make a difference and prevent heart disease. Your provider will support you to help you meet your personal goals for healthier lifestyle choices. Ask for the help you need – I encourage you to take the detour to good health. Your heart will thank you.

Anne Stohrer, MD is one of two OB/GYN specialists at The Women’s Center at Copley.

For more information on health risks, tips to making healthier lifestyle choices, and more visit copleyvt.org/GoRedForWomen.