Diving in: a Cardiologist’s Transition to a Vegan Diet

jeffrey-sobleBy Jeffrey Soble, MD

Nearly two years ago, I decided to follow a vegan diet, or an almost vegan diet, anyway. As I tell my patients, the decision to embrace a plant-based diet is a very personal one. People choose it for a variety of reasons, and it’s just one of several ways to eat more healthfully. Just look at your priorities and do what’s right for you.

For me, a plant-based diet made sense. Here, I share how I made the transition and why.

Health, environment, animal welfare

Several factors in my life converged to convince me to go vegan.

Certainly, there were health reasons: I have a family history of heart disease, and my father died of a heart attack. Heart medications didn’t agree with me, so I took a more serious look at my diet. That thinking coincided with my evolving views of animal rights and a growing desire to do good things to help the planet. I had already started driving less and riding my bike more for health and environmental reasons. Helping to reduce our dependency on the meat industry seemed like another way to be a good world citizen: It can help conserve land, water and energy resources as well as prevent pollution.

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5 Things Dietitians Wish People Knew About Cholesterol

heart-healthy-foodsBy Justine Britten, Liz Page and Allison Wood

September is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, so it’s a great opportunity to educate yourself about the vital role cholesterol plays in your health.

Most people are aware that you want to have low LDL (“bad”) and high HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what makes your LDL and HDL go up or down. Should you avoid egg yolks? Should you stick to low-fat foods, or is sugar the real culprit?

To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of tips that we, as dietitians, routinely share with our patients — especially those who are trying to improve their cholesterol numbers, or who have a family history of heart disease and want to reduce their own risk.

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Protectors of the Heart

heart-center-for-womenBy Marissa Bergman and Annabelle Santos Volgman, MD

Heart disease long was thought to be solely a men’s health concern, but it’s the No. 1 killer of women as well. In fact, 2013 was the first year since 1984 that fewer women died of heart disease than men. This decline was the result of the tireless work of a small group of women who have dedicated their lives to eradicating the misunderstanding and unequal treatment of women’s heart disease. Since March is Women’s History Month, it’s an apt time to look back on their lifesaving work.

Heart disease first came to medical prominence in 1948 with the start of the long-term, ongoing Framingham Heart Study — which now is in its third generation of subjects residing in the Massachusetts town for which the study is named. It was reported in 1955 that age and sex were clearly risk factors for heart attacks; men suffered from heart attacks as early as their 30s and 40s, while women seemingly were spared, because they had much less incidence and experienced heart attacks about ten years later than men.

By 1979, 30,000 more men were succumbing to heart disease than women, cementing the perception of heart disease as a men’s disease. As a result, medical attention was focused almost exclusively on men and their hearts — the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial started in 1974 only examined one sex.

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Keeping Pace With Atrial Fibrillation

heart-rate-running
By Thurston Hatcher

On a cool, sunny morning last October, as tens of thousands of runners raced east toward downtown, I was watching the Chicago Marathon from eight floors up, in a hospital room at Rush University Medical Center.

Instead of attempting what would have been my 11th 26.2-miler, I was being treated for atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat — or arrhythmia — that made it tough for me to run very fast, or very far.

I was diagnosed the previous spring, after weeks of struggling to run the 8:30-minute-per-mile pace that had become routine for me over the last 10 years. Even during relatively brief, three-mile outings, I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath.

So I went to see my primary care doctor at Rush, who ordered the electrocardiogram that immediately revealed my arrhythmia. To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised. I had suspected for several years, particularly after long marathon training runs, that my heartbeat was a little off. But even though I’m pretty health-conscious — maybe even borderline hypochondriac — I failed to appreciate that it could be something serious.

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Stroke Heroes

Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

By Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

May is American Stroke Month, and volunteers from the American Heart/American Stroke Association gathered at the state capital to recognize Sen. Heather Steans, Rep. Robyn Gabel, and former Rep. Bob Biggins for their work to improve outcomes for stroke patients over the last five years. Stroke is the nation’s No. 4 killer and the No. 1 cause of severe disability.

Five years ago, Sen. Steans and Rep. Biggins, a stroke survivor, championed the groundbreaking Illinois Primary Stroke Center law of 2009. Since that time, 39 hospitals have been designated as Primary Stroke Centers, and five hospitals have been designated as Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals, with many more waiting approval. These specifically designated stroke hospitals offer higher levels of stroke care, with strict national and/or state certification processes. EMS providers are directed to take stroke patients directly to these designated stroke centers, bypassing hospitals less able to provide high quality stroke care.

Sen. Steans and Rep. Gabel took the next step by introducing House Bill 5742, legislation that will keep stroke care moving in Illinois. This crucial legislation will allow Illinois to take full advantage of advances in technology, techniques, and standards of stroke care which have been developed since 2009, including:

  • Allowing the Illinois Department of Public Health to designate Comprehensive Stroke Centers, the highest level of stroke care available;
  • Align Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals with National Acute Stroke Ready standards;
  • Facilitate the creation of an Illinois stroke data registry, a critical tool for continuing quality improvement.

In a press conference on May 22, as chair of the Illinois Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of presenting Sen. Steans, Rep. Biggins and Rep. Gabel with Stroke Hero Awards. Shortly thereafter, I witnessed the almost unanimous approval of HB 5742 in the Senate. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

The Stroke Program at Rush has met the highest level certification standards by the American Stroke Association and the Joint Commission as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. Recently, Rush was awarded the Gold Plus Performance Achievement by the American Stroke Association.

Ciara’s Story: “I Know That I’m Safe Now”

Ciara McGrath was lying on the bed reading a book when the room went — as she puts it — “spinny crazy like you can’t even imagine.”

“I could barely walk. I was falling over,” she recalls.

After passing out and being resuscitated in an ER, she was referred to Rush University Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. First she underwent an ablation procedure, then electrophysiologist Richard Trohman, MD, implanted a cardiac device “to make sure I don’t have any episodes like that again.”

“I know that I’m safe now, and I’m more active than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she says. “Dr. Trohman, the nurses, the entire staff here in the EP department, they’re like family. They took such good care of me, I can’t imagine not coming to see them at least once a year to have things checked out.”

Ten Years of Caring For Women’s Hearts

Volgman_AnnabelleBy Annabelle Volgman, MD

In 1984, there were more women who died of cardiovascular disease than men. Cardiovascular disease has been the number one killer of American women, more than all cancers put together. Women were being treated differently than men, including hormone replacement therapy for high cholesterol instead of the more effective cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. This resulted in thousands more women dying from cardiovascular disease.

In 2001, the American Heart Association started a campaign to increase awareness about heart disease in women. This campaign was named the Go Red for Women campaign in 2003. Lynne Braun PhD, ANP, and I were involved with the inception of the awareness campaign, and we both continue to be involved with Go Red for Women.

In 2003, the Rush Heart Center for Women opened its doors to prevent and treat heart disease in women. In addition to our services, we also offered complimentary nutrition counseling, which we were able to offer through funding from grateful donors. We wanted to give comprehensive evaluation and compassionate care to prevent devastating cardiac events.

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