Prevention, detection, intervention are keys to cardiac care at Porter

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Testing the ticker: A patient takes a stress test at the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine at Porter Regional Hospital. | Photo courtesy of Porter Regional Hospital

At Porter Regional Hospital’s Center for Cardiovascular Medicine, the goal is not only to successfully treat heart disease but to help prevent it.

“We’re working on more of a disease management strategy as opposed to acute care,” said Terri Gingerich, Cardiovascular Service Line director at the Valparaiso hospital.

She said the center’s team of cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and interventional radiologists work to keep patients healthy through prevention and early detection if possible, as well as medications and surgery if needed.

She said heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States and incidents of heart disease are increasing, largely due to an aging population, obesity and the sour economy.

“As a nation, our work stress level is high. The economy has played a big role, too,” Gingerich said.

Smoking, bad dietary habits and family history of heart disease are also factors, she said.

She said early signs or symptoms of heart failure often go unnoticed or ignored. In some instances, especially hypertension, a lot of damage can be done over time if left untreated, Gingerich said.

“The sooner you can get early stages of heart failure detected and treated the better,” Gingerich said. “It’s better to keep you healthy upfront.”

She said any time there is a change in an individual’s normal state of health, they need to start looking at the cause.

Gingerich said the center utilizes social media and the Internet to make information readily available on what people can do to prevent heart disease, such as eating a healthier diet, exercising and quitting smoking.

“Any form of regular exercise will help. It doesn’t mean you’re going to boot camp every day. As for a diet, you should cut down on cholesterol and fats and practice moderation,” Gingerich said.

She explained that when an individual carries around a lot of weight, it puts extra work on the heart. If the individual loses weight, it will slow the progression of the heart problem and significantly reduce the risk of more serious heart disease.

Health screenings are also an important part of prevention, as are routine physicals and regular visits to a primary care doctor, where early symptoms can be detected and patients can get the care they need.

She said individuals with a family history of heart disease, stressful job or poor eating habits should especially be sure to get screenings and visit their doctor regularly.

Gingerich said Porter Regional Hospital offers an $85 cardiac head-to-toe screening, for example, that includes lab work, which screens for cardiac markers, and ultrasound, which screens for carotid arteries.

The screening, one of many available, also looks at a person’s circulation and aorta, she said.

Porter Regional Hospital also has several technologies that can diagnose potential heart problems.

• An echocardiogram ­— A noninvasive procedure used to assess the heart’s structure and function. It can detect coronary heart disease, congenital heart disease, aneurysm and cardiomyopathy.

• 3-D TEE — A new tool that provides accurate, real-time images of the heart from every angle so cardiologists can visualize any leaks.

• Holter Monitoring — This allows the physician to capture any abnormal heartbeats or rhythms that may be causing fainting, dizziness, low blood pressure, fatigue and palpitations, especially if they occur frequently.

• Tilt Table ­— This procedure evaluates an individual with symptoms of fainting.

The hospital also conducts some educational events in the communities in which it serves on how to stay healthy.

“We’ve come a long way in treating heart disease, but we still have a huge way to go,” Gingerich said.