Pratt: Heart problems can’t be ignored; take time for life-saving help

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

February is American Heart Month. We see a ton of great tips and tools about living a lifestyle that supports heart health, but in this article, I want to focus beyond this information.

Heart problems are not something to ignore.

Heart disease is an abnormal function of the heart or blood vessels which can cause an increase in risk for heart attack, heart failure, sudden death and cardiac rhythm problems. The statistics from American Heart Association’s 2015 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update are scary:

• Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

• Heart disease accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in the U.S.

• Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in Louisiana.

• Louisiana has the fifth highest death rate from cardiovascular disease in the country.

There are multiple risk factors that lead to the development of heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and unhealthy food habits. Louisiana exceeds the national average in the number of adults that smoke and are obese, making Louisianans more likely to have heart disease. Are you at risk? To determine your risk, you should see a physician.

What doctor should you see?

Primary Care Physician (PCP) – Start with seeing your primary care physician to determine your risk of cardiac issues. Why? Your PCP knows you best and will be able to direct you to a specialist or screening if needed. It’s important that your PCP is involved so that he/she can help manage your care and medications and refer you to the best specialist for you.

Cardiologist — If you have already been diagnosed with heart disease and have ongoing cardiac issues, it is appropriate to see a cardiologist.

Emergency Room — If you are having signs and symptoms of heart attack, go to the Emergency Room immediately. 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.

The “Talk”

Are you prepared for a visit with your doctor? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and tongue-tied when you are with your doctor. Preparing for medical visits can help you feel more in control of your health. Be prepared to provide your family history, current medications and supplements and any results from screenings you might have had.

In addition to providing information to the doctor, it is important to ask questions.

What are my risk factors for heart disease?

What are the warning signs of heart disease?

Do I need to lose or gain weight for my health?

What is a healthful eating plan for me?

What role does diabetes play in heart disease? Do I have diabetes? Do I need to lower my blood sugar? If so, how?

What kind of physical activity is right for me?

What is my blood pressure and is it at a healthy level?

What is my blood cholesterol and is it at a healthy level?

What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease? (If you smoke, ask for help in quitting.)

If you’re a woman, ask, “What should I know about the effects of menopause on my health?”

A Few Common Tests and Screenings 

To determine your risk of heart disease, doctors might order different tests and screenings. Regular cardiovascular screenings are important, because they help you detect risk factors in their earliest stages.

Most regular cardiovascular screening tests should begin at age 20. The frequency of follow up will depend on your level of risk. Typical screening tests are blood pressure/pulse oxygen, cholesterol, blood glucose test, EKG, pulmonary function studies and stress tests.

We are here

We take pride in helping to heal hearts locally — whether through our network of primary care providers, cardiologists, cardiopulmonary services or wellness events. Visit our website at to find a physician or to stay abreast of upcoming events.

This month, we are celebrating American Heart Month by hosting a “Heart Smart Saturday” on Feb. 27 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This heart health fair will be held in David Reynaud Medical Plaza and will offer a free day of heart screenings, activities, education and an opportunity to meet privately with Ochsner Medical Center — Kenner Cardiologist Dr. Nakash Grant. RSVP is not required, but attendees can sign-up online at in order to receive a reminder the day before the event.

Mary Ellen Pratt is St. James Parish Hospital CEO. She can be reached at