Take Action Against Breast Cancer With These 5 Tips

Enrich - Published on October 4, 2017

Are you seeing pink? It's a popular pick during the month of October, and for good reason: about one in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime (American Cancer Society). Here are five tips for taking action against breast cancer, year-round.



1. Physical Activity. Staying active may help lower the risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the immune system.

2. Healthy Nutrition. Maintaining a healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast and other types of cancer. Eat more whole grains and fewer sweets and high fat foods. (Try these tips for menu planning and prepping for less stress.)

3. Drink Less Alcohol. High levels of alcohol intake increase the risk of breast cancer.

4. Don't Smoke. Smoking is linked to higher risk of several types of cancer. It can also negatively affect healing during treatment of breast cancer. Need help quitting? Start here >>

5. Breast Care. The best protection is early detection! Despite the recent controversies over screening mammography, no one disputes the fact that annual mammograms starting at age 40 saves the most lives. Breast cancers found during a mammogram are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. Finding breast cancer early can improve the chances that breast cancer can be treated successfully and with more treatment options, less extensive surgery, and ultimately, better treatment outcomes.

To schedule your mammogram, call 701.780.6157 or visit altru.org/breast. 

Lashonda Soma, MD, always knew she’d be in medicine. “As a child, I was happiest when I was caring for others. The choice (to be in medicine) was made for me,” she says. "I love my job. While it can be emotionally taxing at times, I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Why Colonoscopy Matters | Vaughn’s Altru Moment

Altru Moments - Published on September 25, 2017

Years ago, Vaughn Jevning of Crookston, Minnesota, enjoyed many hunting and fishing adventures. Yet, hunting for polyps was never on the agenda.



“You should get a colonoscopy,” recommended Kamrin Macki, gastroenterology nurse practitioner, during a routine liver check-up in October of 2016.

At 65 years young, Vaughn took Kamrin’s advice and was in for his first-ever colonoscopy with Dr. Bradley Belluk the following month. 

No History, No Symptoms… Cancer?
While Vaughn wasn’t excited, he wasn’t too nervous.

“I had no family history, no symptoms,” he explains. “It was just a matter of getting in the door and getting it done.”

However, Dr. Belluk found something.

“It was a polyp, and it was cancer,” shares Vaughn.

Dr. Belluk referred Vaughn to the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® in Minneapolis for surgery to remove the cancer. Surgery was successful, and Vaughn is back in Grand Forks cancer-free. He continues follow-up care every several months, and will for the next few years.

Vaughn quickly informed his siblings of his cancer. All were checked, and one brother also found colon cancer and underwent surgery to remove it—all thanks to Kamrin’s recommendation to Vaughn.

“My sisters had no problem,” shares Vaughn. “I think women are more used to going to the doctor. Before Kamrin mentioned it, no one had ever told me to get a colonoscopy. I’m so thankful she did.”

Vaughn continues, “Don’t be fearful. Don’t be embarrassed. Just get in the door, and they’ll take care of you. If you don’t find anything, it’s no big deal. Cancer is much scarier than a simple colonoscopy.” 

Why Screen?
Kamrin Macki encourages all of her patients at age 50 (or sooner, with family history or other factors), to get a screening colonoscopy.

“Most colon cancers are preventable,” she shares. “If a colon cancer is detected on colonoscopy, if we catch it in the early stages before it spreads, then it can be surgically resected.”

Roughly, one in 20 adults has colon cancer. It is the third-leading cause of death in women and the second-leading cause of death in men. 



Encouraging Others
Perhaps you have a family member or friend in need of getting a colonoscopy? Kamrin shares this advice: “Knowledge is essential. When people are well-informed of the risk of colon cancer and what can be done to prevent it, they usually will pursue screening.”

Vaughn is glad Kamrin educated him. “I’m just happy to be alive to tell others.”

To learn more about colonoscopy, visit altru.org/colon. 

If the cost of a colonoscopy is standing in your way, Altru Health System may have funding available through its No-Cost Colonoscopy program.

Enjoying Life as an Active Mom and Wife | Yvonne’s Altru Advanced Orthopedics Story

Altru Moments - Published on September 25, 2017

Thirty-one-year-old Yvonne Fossen of Maddock, North Dakota, spent the summer of 2017 playing with her two kids for the first time in four years. In the past, she couldn’t possibly get down on her hands and knees to play. That was until she met Dr. Darin Leetun of Altru Advanced Orthopedics.

Four years ago, Yvonne had torn her ACL and meniscus and had them repaired at another healthcare facility. “I was 27 years old at the time and had never been hard on my knees,” explains Yvonne. “I had two small children at home, and the pain after surgery just never seemed to go away.”



“The last straw was when I could no longer take a short walk without it throbbing,” she explains. “That’s no way to live at 31 years old!”

She saw her primary care provider, Dr. Heidi Bittner, who recommended Dr. Leetun.

Yvonne recalls, “The first time I met him, I knew he was going to make my knee better… and my life.”

Just Phenomenal
Yvonne not only appreciated Dr. Leetun, but also the care environment and other staff members she encountered. She shares, “The technology installed in Altru Professional Center is just phenomenal. I couldn’t get over how awesome it was, and how caring everyone was. They genuinely wanted to make my life better. The initial nurse was amazing at informing me of the process, and Dr. Leetun re-explained everything in an easy-to-understand way. He let me know that I had options, and we were going to fix my knee.”

Dr. Leetun scheduled Yvonne for x-rays and an MRI that day. After reviewing the results, he explained she would need a minimum of two procedures to improve her knee pain. “We scheduled an arthroscopy and cleaned up the cartilage,” she explains, “and he repaired another tear in the meniscus.”

Yvonne was on crutches for two weeks, followed by physical therapy for six weeks. At her eight-week check-up, she was still experiencing some pain and stiffness, so Dr. Leetun gave her a shot of cortisone to make her more comfortable.

Living Pain-Free
“It feels better now than it has in four years!” exclaims Yvonne. “We will schedule the next procedure for the winter. Dr. Leetun really listened to my concerns and understand that I am way too young to not be able to get down and play with my daughters and dogs.”

Yvonne, along with her husband and two girls, enjoys being outside and biking, skiing, walking, swimming and hunting. Now that Yvonne is living pain-free again, the Fossens are back to sharing their favorite activities—together.

Knee pain can affect people of all ages, often resulting in discomfort, aching and soreness. Altru Advanced Orthopedics' providers offer a wide range of personalized treatment options for knee pain and injury. Learn more >>

Prostate Cancer: Do You Know Your Risk?

Enrich - Published on September 11, 2017

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men. Prostate cancer screening with a risk assessment, prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test, and a digital rectal exam (DRE) detects cancer at an earlier stage than in men who have no screening. A positive screening does not mean that you have prostate cancer; a biopsy is required to determine if cancer is present.



There are certain risk factors associated with the development of prostate cancer, including:


  • Age: Risk increases with age.

  • Race: African American men are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with and to die from prostate cancer.

  • Family History: Men with a close relative who has prostate cancer are at an increased risk.

  • Diet: Studies show there may be a link between a diet higher in fat and prostate cancer.

  • Chemical Exposure: Men with a history of exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, and veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are at a higher risk. Also, newer studies show that firefighters are at an increased risk.


The American Urological Association recommends screening at the following ages:

  • Average risk men benefit the most between the ages of 55 and 69.

  • High risk men between the ages of 40 and 54 should discuss screening with their healthcare provider.

  • Men age 70 and older should only be screened if in excellent health.


This annual screening takes into account a health history that assesses for risk, the PSA trend and the DRE to assess for the need for follow up.

Altru Health System will be offering a Free Prostate Cancer Screening on Wednesday, September 13. To register, please call 701.780.5396. 

LeAnneLeAnne Kilzer is the oncology resource nurse with Altru Cancer Center. In her role she coordinates screening and awareness events in the community, manages patient educational materials, educates staff on new chemotherapies and follows up with screenings. During her free time, LeAnne enjoys crafting and spending time with her two daughters.

7 Nutrition Trends: Mythbusting with Altru Dietitians

It's Altru - Published on June 27, 2017

New nutrition trends pop up online and in health magazines all the time. With so much advice floating around, it’s easy to get confused about the right foods to eat. We went straight to the experts—Altru’s dietitians—and asked them to bust three popular nutrition trends. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Myth: Gluten free diets result in weight loss. 

Truth: A gluten free diet is followed when someone has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. A gluten free diet consists of eliminating barley, rye, oats and wheat. Weight loss may occur if you eliminate most chips, cookies and desserts. If the chips, cookies and desserts are replaced with gluten free items, the calories are usually the same, due to using a different form of flour. So, if you haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac and want to lose weight, reducing calories and increasing exercise is the way to go.



2. Myth: Juicing (the process of removing juice from fresh fruits and vegetables) results in weight loss. 

Truth: Juicing is no healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables. Juice is often lower in nutrients, and the fiber content is near zero. Whole foods usually contain more vitamins and minerals, as many of these nutrients are in or near the skin, which gets discarded as pulp when juiced. Your body does not absorb nutrients better in juice form.

Yet, juicing isn’t all bad. Additional truths:


  • Some juicers do reserve the extracted pulp. This fiber-rich pulp can be added to soups, stew and quick breads for added benefit.

  • Juicing may improve nutritional intake by incorporating fruits and veggies that may not get eaten due to flavor or texture preferences.

  • Juicing can be used as part of a sensible weight loss program, which would also include a variety of nutritious whole foods.


The bottom line: when enjoyed in moderation, fresh-squeezed juice can be a nice way to get in more vitamins and minerals from a variety of fruits and vegetables. However, the best way to lose weight and promote optimal health is to eat a well-balanced diet made up of foods from all food groups.

3. Myth: Since dietary supplements are easily available – and don’t require a prescription – they are safer than drug products and can be used to self-treat illness without a health professional’s advice or supervision. 

Truth: Taking supplements will not necessarily improve your performance and can be dangerous. More is not better. Studies have shown that some herbal products interact with drugs and can have a wide range of effects, including:

  • John’s Wort may interfere with drugs used by organ transplant patients, and drugs used to treat depression, seizures and certain cancers

  • Some alter effectiveness of oral contraceptives

  • Garlic, ginko, danshen and dong quai can cause the blood to thin


Always consult with your health care professional prior to taking dietary supplements.

4. Myth: Avoid carbohydrates to lose weight. 

Truth: Cutting back on carbs may help you lose weight in the short term, but this is mainly because you are eating less food and calories. Significantly reducing carbohydrates means you will miss out on nutritional benefits provided by healthy choices, such as whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, dairy, and dried peas and beans. Low carb diets are restrictive and hard to follow. The weight you lose will likely be regained.  



5. Myth: Coconut oil is healthier than olive oil.

Truth: Coconut oil does not offer any more health benefits beyond olive oil. In fact, it may be unhealthy if consumed in large amounts due to its saturated fat content.

Coconut oil is rapidly increasing in popularity and health claims range from helping people lose weight to curing Alzheimer’s disease. There are two basic categories of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Coconut oil is about 90 percent saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet can raise LDL “bad” cholesterol, which increases the risk for heart disease. It also raises HDL “good” cholesterol.

Olive oil is mainly an unsaturated fat, and unsaturated fats lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and raise HDL “good” cholesterol. Coconut oil can be used occasionally for its flavor or to replace other hard fat sources, such as vegetable shortening in baking.

6. Myth: A healthy diet is too expensive.

Truth: Consider not only the cost at the grocery store, but also the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases. It’s possible to eat well on a budget.

Obesity, heart disease and diabetes could be dramatically reduced by a healthy diet. While groceries do add up quickly, it’s difficult to put a price on healthy eating. To help keep healthy foods a part of any budget, keep the following in mind:

  • Get into the habit of menu planning and shopping from a list. Avoid wandering aimlessly through the store, picking up items you might end up using.

  • Pay attention at the checkout. Make sure prices are tallied correctly.

  • Buy store brands. These are often 15-20 percent less expensive when compared to national brands, while the quality is very similar.

  • Shop the perimeter of the store to avoid tempting convenience items in the middle aisles. These are often less healthy and more expensive.

  • Use coupons and watch sales to take advantage of great deals. Remember: the deal isn’t so great if you don’t need the food or won’t use it.

  • Eggs, beans, canned tuna, frozen veggies, peanut butter and seasonal fruits and veggies are a few healthy foods that won’t break the bank.

  • Plan a meatless meal once or twice a week. (See Myth #3.)




7. Myth: A vegetarian diet does not provide enough protein.

Truth: Protein doesn’t just come from animal products. Beans, nuts and whole grains can provide ample protein for almost everyone as part of a well-planned diet.

Plant-based proteins are loaded with other nutrients as well: fiber, folate, potassium and antioxidants, to name a few. Substituting meat for beans and using animal protein as an accent rather than the main event of a dish are effective strategies to prepare filling and nutritious meals. Eating plant-based protein sources may also help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and slash your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Lifestyle modification, rather than quick fixes, is the way to go for long-term weight loss and maintenance. If you are looking to manage your weight by changing your diet and exercise for the better, check out Altru’s Weight Management Program or visit with one of our dietitians.

Hear from a Doctor without Leaving Home

It's Altru - Published on June 14, 2017

Sharing concerns with your doctor, scheduling appointments and getting access to your medical information has never been this easy. With eVisits and MyHealth, Altru Health System is becoming more present online.

Altru eVisits
Have you ever had a little cough that you just weren’t sure about or a rash that didn’t seem quite worth a trip to the hospital?

Now by using Altru eVisits, you can tell Altru professionals your symptoms right on your smartphone or your computer. You even have the ability to add a picture to your eVisit if your concern is something visible. By doing so, an Altru provider can diagnose you online, give you a plan of action and/or send in your prescription. Or, they can let you know that it is worth coming in to have a physician look at it in person.

Altru eVisits are great in many different instances and will have a positive impact on:


  • Patients with busy schedules

  • Out-out-town patients

  • Patients with limited mobility

  • Visits that don’t require physical interaction


If you have a specific issue that isn’t an emergency, there is a good chance it can be resolved by an Altru eVisit. Remember, if your medical issue is urgent, do not wait for an eVisit consult.

Although it is a very exciting opportunity, before you jump right into your first eVisit, you must have already been a patient with Altru Health System and have an established MyHealth account. Log on to your MyHealth account to initiate an eVisit.



MyHealth
Along with our new online visits, Altru offers MyHealth online medical site. By being a former patient of Altru and by signing up for a MyHealth account you can:

  • Communicate with your provider’s office

  • Schedule/Cancel medical appointments. View upcoming and past appointments.

  • Pay bills securely.

  • View most test results, Radiology and Pathology reports and provider outpatient progress notes.

  • Request portions of your Medical Record with Altru (some fees may apply).

  • Request prescription renewals.

  • View your child’s record and print growth charts.

  • Manage care of elderly parents.


To sign up or for more information, check out the MyHealth login page.

See also:

Back to Baking & Time With Grandkids | Rita's Altru Advanced Orthopedics Story

Altru Moments - Published on May 1, 2017

Rita Brodina spent over 25 years working as a nurse at the Good Samaritan Society in Park River. She retired in June of 2016, looking forward to spending time with her grandkids and working in her garden. Unfortunately, hip and back pain were getting in the way of her plans.



“I wasn’t able to live my normal life,” explained Rita. “Simply walking to the garden was difficult. Bending over to get cookies out of the oven became a challenge. The pain was keeping me from my normal activities.”

Rita sought care for her pain for several months without finding the right solution. She saw a chiropractor, tried physical therapy and nothing seemed to help.

Finally, after an X-ray indicated her hip might be the culprit of most of her pain, she was referred to Dr. Jeremy Gardner at Altru Advanced Orthopedics. Wanting to avoid surgery if possible, Dr. Gardner first treated Rita with a cortisone injection to see if that would ease her pain. For a while it was successful, but after a few weeks her pain was back.

“At that point, my pain was so distracting and had been for so long that I knew a more long-term solution was necessary.”

When Rita and Dr. Gardner made the decision that a hip replacement was the right treatment, he recommended total replacement with the Mako Robotic Arm. A new addition to the treatment options at Altru Advanced Orthopedics, the Mako allowed for a more precise replacement, which in turn meant less pain and a more natural-feeling joint for Rita.

“Dr. Gardner was confident I was a good candidate for a replacement with the robotic arm,” remembers Rita. “They took a CT scan of my hip to ensure everything would match up precisely, and my new joint would be a perfect fit for me.”

Prior to her procedure, she and her husband attended an informational class held by Altru’s Joint Replacement Center so they’d know what to expect.

“The class was so important for my husband,” shared Rita. “It really showed him that he would have to be my coach and partner through this, and that he’d have a big role right after surgery. The information made him more comfortable with that and prepared us both.”

Rita had her replacement on November 21, 2016, at 7:30 a.m., and by 2:30 p.m. that same day, she was walking to the bathroom with the help of a therapist.

“It was really kind of amazing. I was up and moving so soon, already starting exercises with physical therapists in the hospital and preparing to leave the day after my surgery.”

Now, about four months later, Rita is looking forward to getting her garden ready for summer without assistance.

“Before my surgery, I was in too much pain to tend to my garden, so my kids had to help me,” shared Rita. “I’m so looking forward to doing my own flower beds.”



She’s also grateful to be more active with her grandkids since recovery.

“Before, I didn’t pick up my granddaughter,” reflected Rita. “I was unsteady, and it made me nervous. Now, she’s ten months old and I can carry her around. That feels great.”

With the advanced technology of the Mako Robotic Arm, a strong support system in her family and a dedication to her exercises to strengthen her leg and hip, Rita was able get back to an active and enjoyable retirement.

Less Time Traveling, More Time Enjoying the Outdoors | Matthew’s Altru Moment

Altru Moments - Published on April 24, 2017

Growing up in northwestern Minnesota was like a giant playground for Matthew Sisler, an avid fisherman, hunter and overall outdoorsman.

On a Saturday in June of 2010, Matthew was at work, and his mother expected him home shortly after his shift ended. They had plans to go clothing shopping for an upcoming school trip. When Matthew did not return home as expected, worry overcame his mother, Beth.

Like many rural communities, word traveled quickly that Matthew was missing, and a small search was soon underway. Matthew was found within hours, a few miles from his home, his vehicle lodged in the ditch. He was disoriented in a country setting that should have been more than familiar to him.

Because he was alone and unable to recall what had actually happened, this frightening event was left unsolved and somewhat unexplainable. Matthew was 17 at the time, received routine care and went on with his youthful adventures.



Puzzling Seizures
In January 2011 while ice fishing, Matthew experienced a seizure that raised more concern and initiated more medical care, with no clear diagnosis of a problem. Within a few short weeks, Matthew experienced yet another seizure while at school and was quickly transported to the emergency room in Thief River Falls. It was after the third incident that appointments were arranged with Dr. Matthew Roller, a neurologist at Altru Health System. Soon, EEG and MRI’s became common acronyms in the Sislers’ vocabulary.

Dr. Roller was determined to treat and diagnose whatever was causing the seizures. Matthew’s mother, Beth, smiles, “We have always had a lot of confidence in Dr. Roller.”

Rhonda, Dr. Roller’s nurse, worked closely with Matthew and his family to find the best fit with seizure medication. This type of medication can alter personality, and the Sislers appreciated Rhonda’s extreme patience, understanding and informative style during a scary and trying time.

Consulting with Mayo Experts
Dr. Roller recognized the benefit the Mayo Clinic Care Network could provide in properly treating Matthew. He reached out to his colleagues at Mayo with an eConsult, discussing the conditions Matthew was experiencing. Tests led to the diagnosis and finding of Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), or a tangle of blood vessels in the brain that occurs in less than one percent of the population. Matthew was sent to Mayo Clinic in Rochester to further discuss options, which included invasive surgery or the Gamma Knife Radiosurgery. The therapy took place at Mayo in June of 2011.

“Everything at Mayo is like clockwork and very organized,” Matthew said. “There are no guessing games.”

All of Matthew’s follow-up care, from his initial Gamma Knife radiosurgery to his second surgery in June of 2015, has been at Altru’s Neurology department with the utilization of the Mayo Clinic Care Network through Dr. Roller. The exchange of information and quick responses to questions or concerns have been comforting for Matthew and his family. The availability of eConsults at Altru has saved the Sislers many miles and hours of travel, time away from work and responsibilities at home, and has reduced the financial burden.



Matthew’s condition, while difficult to detect, could have resulted in a stroke if left unidentified. Dr. Roller’s knowledge, coupled with the Mayo Clinic Care Network, has allowed Matthew to continue doing all the things he loves. He is a true outdoor enthusiast, hunting and fishing as often as possible, a wonderful brother, a fiancé ready to start a life with his bride-to-be, a first responder, a board member and a volunteer with the Red Lake Falls Ambulance service. Matthew says, “Life goes on.  I haven’t stopped living.”

As the first member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, Altru Health System is helping to bring Mayo Clinic’s knowledge and expertise to the Red River Valley. Learn more about how we’re helping patients save travel time, money and miles through this collaboration.

Nursing Careers: Limitless Possibilities, Growing Demand

It's Altru - Published on April 18, 2017

Anyone who has visited a doctor’s office or spent a day in the hospital might feel like they know what it means to be a nurse. But the truth is, nursing is more than meets the eye and much more in demand than Americans probably realize.

Nursing has become the fastest-growing occupation in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, there were approximately 2.6 million nursing jobs in the country. By 2018, estimates show that figure will grow to 3.2 million – a 22 percent increase of a half-million jobs.

Why the Demand?
Many factors contribute to the increasing need for nurses in the workforce. One of the biggest reasons is simple demographics. As the baby boom generation ages, more people need healthcare services. Studies show as many as 1/3 of people over the age of 65 have more than one chronic health condition.

But it isn’t just the aging baby boomers causing the need for more nurses. Jennifer Nuelle-Dimoulas, director of regional clinic operations for Altru Health System, says part of the issue is the high number of veteran nurses nearing retirement. She says of the estimated three million nurses in the United States, about 1/3 of them are over the age of 50.

“By 2025 we expect this will be the largest shortage of nurses since Medicare and Medicaid started in the 1960s,” she says.

Nuelle-Dimoulas says there is also more competition from other occupational fields. Women today aspire to many different kinds of careers, whereas—prior to 1970—they might have felt limited to teaching or nursing.

Healthy Salaries
But healthcare professionals are working hard to encourage people to give nursing another look, and it starts with salaries. Recent nursing school graduates can receive some of the highest starting salaries in the nation and have potential for raises as they gain career experiences.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for a nurse in 2015 was approximately $67,000. Nurses in personal care services, which include work in doctors’ offices, hospital and outpatient facilities, are the leading earners.

Nurses who opt to continue their training and education can expect even higher salaries. Advanced practice nurse practitioners (APRN’s) which include nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners have a median salary of about $105,000 a year.



Room for Growth and Change
Many people who choose nursing for a career will tell you they enjoy the flexibility it affords. With more than 100 nursing specialties—as well as advanced nursing degrees—nurses don’t need to stay in the same career track for years unless they choose. Movement can be lateral—from one specialized area to the next—or progressive, where nurses climb the ranks to supervisory or administrative positions.

With the great number of nursing jobs available at healthcare facilities, many nurses looking for employment can write their own ticket, choosing what kind of nursing work they’d like to do and the hours and days they want to work.

But Nuelle-Dimoulas says nursing goes beyond direct patient care. She says nurses with advanced degrees are policy makers, researchers and decision makers.

“Nursing is as creative as one sets their mind to be,” Nuelle-Dimoulas says. “The opportunities in nursing are expansive. Whatever piques your interest, there is a field of nursing for it. I’ve lived that creativity myself.”

Before accepting her position at Altru in 2016, Nuelle-Dimoulas—who is a native of Langdon, North Dakota—used her nurse and nurse practitioner degrees in a variety of ways from editing a medical journal to developing healthcare applications in IT and working in international medicine in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“I would challenge everyone to expand their view of nursing with a dose of creativity and imagination. The possibilities are limitless,” she says. “I have the benefit of looking at my career in a rear view mirror and I can see just how incredible it is.”

Do what you love. Make a difference. Join our team of over 4,000 health professionals and support staff committed to caring for the region for more than 100 years. Learn about nursing career opportunities at Altru Health System.

Heart Disease: What Is and Isn’t in Your Control

It's Altru - Published on April 17, 2017

heart-disease-in-control-tipsBeating an average of 115,200 beats per day, hearts provide the lifeblood of oxygen and nutrients to keep our bodies alive and well. A lot goes on in those four little chambers.

Dr. Rabeea Aboufakher, section chief of cardiology at Altru Health System, explains some of the most common heart diseases, as well as risk factors and lifestyle prevention tips to keep your ticker in top shape.

Coronary artery disease (CAD)


  • What it is: Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a chronic disease characterized by plaque buildup in the walls of the coronary arteries. These are the small arteries that run on the surface of the heart muscle and provide the heart with blood. Blockage can develop slowly to cause angina (chest discomfort on exertion) or suddenly to cause a heart attack.



  • What you can control: High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol through lifestyle modifications or medication. Smoking cessation is particularly important. Patients with CAD will also benefit from a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as regular exercise. Weight is important, but diet and exercise matter even more. Certain medications such as aspirin and a statin reduce the risk of future cardiac events.



  • What you can’t control: Family history plays a role. While you can manage high blood pressure and diabetes with lifestyle and/or medication, the onset of these conditions is not always in your control.



  • Treatment: When patients suffer from a heart attack caused by a blocked coronary artery, opening the artery with a stent is life-saving. At Altru, we have a team on call 24 hours a day to make sure this therapy is offered quickly and effectively. In certain situations, bypass surgery is needed and this too is offered at Altru.


Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

  • What it is: Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a chronic disease characterized by plaque buildup in the large peripheral arteries, such as the arteries that supply the lower extremities. In severe cases, it can lead to non-healing wounds and possible amputation. A common symptom is pain and fatigue in the leg muscles with walking.



  • What you can control: Similar to that for CAD, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol through lifestyle modifications or medication. Smoking cessation is particularly important.



  • Treatment: When the arteries are blocked, procedures such as balloons, stents or bypass surgery are needed. Altru offers all these treatments.


Congestive heart failure (CHF)

  • What it is: Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a syndrome caused by inability of the heart muscle to pump blood adequately, failing to meet the demand of organs and tissues. Symptoms are related to fluid overload, such as shortness of breath and leg swelling. Any heart disease can result in CHF when advanced. Close follow-up is necessary to avoid fluid accumulation and hospital admissions.



  • What you can control: Follow a low sodium diet and occasional fluid restriction. Keep regular check-ups.



  • Treatment: Certain patients should have a defibrillator to protect them from dangerous arrhythmia. For others, a permanent monitor placed in the pulmonary artery can track fluid status and direct therapy. Altru offers all these services and will soon launch a special congestive heart failure clinic. 


Atrial fibrillation 

  • What it is: Atrial fibrillation is a very common arrhythmia. The atria, or the upper chambers of the heart, fibrillate (instead of squeeze), causing fast heart rates. Symptoms include palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pain, among others.



  • What you can control: Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is be aware. Keep regular check-ups.



  • What you can’t control: Family history.



  • Treatment: Medications are often needed to slow the heart rate. Blood thinners protect from blood clot formation inside the heart. Different treatments are available, including ablation procedure now offered at Altru.




Patients who already have heart disease benefit from regular visits with their cardiologist to assess symptoms and evaluate risk. For all, checking blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly is important to reduce risk. Stress testing can also be helpful if symptoms occur or are difficult to evaluate.

Aboufakher, RabeeaDr. Rabeea Aboufakher is the section chief of cardiology at Altru Health system. He is board certified in cardiovascular disease, interventional cardiology, internal medicine and geriatric medicine. He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the Society of Cardiovascular Angiography and Intervention. In his free time, Dr. Aboufakher enjoys reading, swimming and playing table tennis.

 

 

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