From the Heart: Dr. Pearson, Cardiovascular Surgeon, Finds Inspiration Inside & Outside Medicine

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 10:12 AM comments (0)

Dr. PearsonPaul Pearson, MD, PhD, Cardiovascular Surgery at NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, enjoys a good challenge, which is what ultimately drew him to medicine, first as Illinois’s youngest paramedic and later as a surgeon. 

Here, Dr. Pearson tells us what he finds most rewarding about his vocation and how his experiences as a parent of children with heart issues help him better understand and communicate with his patients: 

What inspired you to go into medicine?
I have always enjoyed the excitement and challenges that characterize certain aspects of the medical field.  I grew up watching the 1970s television show Emergency!, and was inspired to become a paramedic, as it turns out the youngest paramedic in Illinois, at a time when the concept of pre-hospital advanced life support was just taking hold.  Not only was I able to work through college but I was immersed in the excitement of critical situations where advanced training, technology and quick, informed decision-making could save lives.

Why did you choose cardiac surgery?
I have always thought that cardiac surgery expressed all of the best elements of medicine—advanced technology, highly trained and skilled practitioners, decades of scientific inquiry and investigation—all applied to some of the most challenging, life-threatening health problems.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
Any heart surgeon will tell you that what keeps them from sleeping at night is the expression, “What we don’t know, we don’t know.” It’s when a critical situation occurs because of the inevitable gaps in our knowledge. This is where the years of study, training and experience all need to come together to produce a good clinical outcome.

What do you find most rewarding?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of surgery is the post-operative visit with the patient.  By that time, the patient is feeling better, recovery from surgery is well underway and the patient has usually been able to reflect on the dangerous journey through which they came out safe.  For some patients, it is summarized as, “Thank you for saving my life.” 

How does your personal experience as a father of children with heart defects affect the way you practice medicine and connect with your patients?
Two of my boys were born with ventricular septal defects (VSDs).  I vividly remember the first time their mom called me in tears and told me that the pediatrician had detected a heart problem in our newborn son.  There was a rush of emotions, followed by questions and “what ifs.”  I frequently recall those emotions and still remember what I needed to hear from my son’s doctors. This helps guide me as I talk with patients in consultation today.  

Why do you think heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.?
The human body was designed to work, be active and challenged both physically and mentally.  Unfortunately, we have transformed into a society of inactivity, at both the physical and mental level.  This has resulted in dramatic consequences on our cardiovascular system, body and, I also think, soul.

What do you think is the most important thing we can do to care for our hearts?
It is really very simple. Be active. Push yourself. Sweat! Have your diet be one of moderation. And for those who are physically able, jogging in the springtime rain is great for the heart and soul.

What inspires you outside of medicine?
I love to read good books, listen to classical music played by a skilled orchestra lead by a gifted conductor. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my children. However, to reflect about life, nothing beats a summertime walk on the North Shore at twilight.

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High Blood Pressure? Lifestyle Changes to Lower the Rise

Thursday, February 19, 2015 12:21 PM comments (0)

mensbloodpressure

Hypertension, affects one in every three people in the United States; it causes or worsens severe health concerns like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes; and it’s nearly symptomless until the damage to arteries and the body is done. That’s a big problem! But it is a problem with a solution and part of that is finding out what's normal and what's not. 

So what’s normal? What is considered high? And what do the numbers mean? Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, with 120 representing the systolic pressure, or the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries when your heart beats, and 80 representing diastolic pressure, or pressure between heart beats. Anything over 120/80 is considered prehypertensive and hypertension begins at 140/90. Medications are prescribed and recommended for blood pressures starting at 139/89.

If you’ve heard the words “high blood pressure” in your doctor’s office, the time to make important lifestyle changes has come. If you’re prehypertensive, these lifestyle changes can help reverse the rise.

Philip Krause, MD, Cardiologist and Director of the Section of Cardiology at NorthShore’s Skokie Hospital, shares his recommendations for simple changes to make now:

  • Drop a few. If you have high blood pressure already, losing weight can lower it. Maintaining a healthy weight—a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9—can significantly reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure altogether. Keep an eye on your waistline particularly. Carrying the majority of your extra pounds around your waist puts you at an increased risk for hypertension. 
  • Put down the salt shaker. Reducing your sodium intake even a little can make a big difference. On average, most people eat far more than recommended. Daily intake of sodium should not exceed 2,300 milligrams per day or 1,500 milligrams if you are 50 or older. Start reading food labels closely as there’s often sodium hiding where you’d least expect it.
  • Get moving. Regular exercise—from 30 to 60 minutes five days a week—will help lower blood pressure levels. It doesn’t take long for exercise to take effect either. If you haven’t been active for  a while, increasing your physical activity level can begin to lower your blood pressure after only a couple of weeks. If exercise is new to you, talk to your physician before starting and he or she will help you get back into the game safely. 
  • Calm down. We’ve all been stressed out by work or life on occasion but if stress is a regular thing, it could start to impact your blood pressure levels. Think about what might be adding stress to your life and see what you can do to eliminate those stressors. If eliminating them completely isn’t an option, find ways to cope, like meditation, massage or talking to a counselor or therapist.  Also consider spending more time enjoying your hobbies; it can be stress relieving as well.
  • Change your diet. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to diminish overall cardiac risk and improve cholesterol profiles. The diet consists of nutritional foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes. A diet rich in poultry, fish and lean meats and low in carbohydrates can aid weight loss as well. This weight loss can help lower blood pressure, too.  

Do you worry about your blood pressure levels? How do you keep it in check? 

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Q&A: Dry Eye Syndrome

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 3:01 PM comments (0)

Dr. MacsaiMarian Macsai, MD, NorthShore Division Chief of Ophthalmology, answered questions on dry eye syndrome in the winter edition of Connections and she continues her Q&A here:

Connections Q & A:

What is dry eye syndrome?
It is a condition that develops when the eye does not produce enough of the watery layer that makes up tears, or tears evaporate because they lack normal levels of an oily substance. This inflammatory disease is associated with several factors, including aging, hormonal changes, autoimmune disease, certain medications, disorders of the eye surface and cosmetic surgery. 

What are the symptoms?
Patients typically complain of stinging, burning, pain, redness, tearing, fatigue, blurred vision and intolerance to wearing contact lenses. Some patients also feel as if something is in their eye.

Can I prevent it?
It is important to avoid wind and dry air and to protect your eyes by wearing wraparound sunglasses. Use a humidifier and rest your eyes by taking frequent, short breaks when reading or using a computer or cellphone. Staring at a computer screen reduces the normal rate of blinking and can result in drying of the eye’s surface.

What are my treatment options?
Schedule a complete eye exam to determine the underlying cause of dry eye syndrome. Your doctor may recommend one of the following:• Dietary supplements

  • Dietary supplements
  • A mild eyelash shampoo
  • Cyclosporine eye drops to help you produce more of your own tears
  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops

Over-the-counter artificial tears may provide relief, but seek medical attention if you use them more than four times a day. Some patients may need to reduce or eliminate wearing contact lenses. Patients with advanced cases may require surgery to close the tear drainage system. 

Continued Q & A:

Can delayed treatment of dry eye syndrome damage a patient's vision?
If left untreated, a patient with dry eye syndrome is at a greater risk for infection and erosions of the cornea. In either case, vision may be affected, possibly with a permanent impairment. 

Once dry eye syndrome develops, can it be cured?  
The condition is chronic. It can be controlled but it cannot be cured.

Would improved hydration--drinking more water--reduce symptoms of dry eye syndrome?
Dehydration affections your entire body but dyhydration is not the source of dry eye syndrome. While hydration is important for your general health, staying hydrated has not been shown to improve the symptoms of dry eyes. 

You mention dietary supplements as a treatment option for dry eye syndrome; what supplements would help?
Omega 3 dietary supplements have been shown to decrease inflammation on the ocular surface and improve dry eyes. Not all omega supplements are the same, however. When taking omega 3s, make sure you are taking a triglyceride formulation rather than an ethyl esther formulation. 

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Heart Disease: Women vs. Men

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 1:58 PM comments (0)

man vs woman heart healthHeart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Each year, approximately 600,000 people will die of heart disease, nearly half of them women. And yet many still believe that heart disease is a man’s disease. It’s not.

There are some possible differences, however, between men and women when it comes to heart disease. Brian Shortal, MD, Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses these differences and the heart disease risk factors that are the same for everyone:

Age. Men are considered at cardiovascular risk starting at 40. Women, on the other hand, are considered at cardiac risk starting at 50. That does not mean that women under the age of 50 have no risk for heart disease, so any symptoms should not be disregarded.  The incidence of heart disease between men and women equalizes around 65, and studies then show that women actually begin to surpass heart disease events in comparison to men. 

Symptoms. Typically, men exhibit more classic cardiac symptoms, including pain across the chest that radiates down the arms, back and jaw, and shortness of breath. Women might display more atypical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness and syncope (fainting/temporary loss of consciousness). In fact, the most common symptom in women over 80 is not chest pain but shortness of breath. 

Risk Factors. The risk factors are the same for both men and women. The major risk factors for coronary artery disease are hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. If you think you might be at risk, see your physician for more information. 

Do you know your risk for heart disease?

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Chocolate – A Healthy Treat?

Friday, February 13, 2015 3:31 PM comments (0)

ChocolateChocolate is good for you! Sound too good to be true? Well, Happy Valentine's Day, because it's true.

Don't take that as permission to rush out and buy all the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate you can find this Valentine's Day. When it comes to chocolate's health benefits, type matters. Not all chocolate is created equal and moderating your consumption (regardless of the type) is key.

Curtis Mann, MD, NorthShore Primary Care physician, breaks down the health benefits of chocolate and shares some tips for picking the "healthiest" chocolate just in time for the heart's favorite holiday:

  • It must be dark chocolate! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, and specifically flavonoids, that some studies have linked to cancer prevention, reductions in circulatory system inflammation and the ability to lower high blood pressure. It’s important to note that dark chocolate also contains less added sugar than milk and white chocolates. A chocolate with at least 60% cacao is best for health benefits.
  • Read the label carefully. It’s best to choose a chocolate that uses cocoa butter (a natural saturated fat also found in olive oil) rather than butterfat. Limiting your daily amount of fat (saturated and unsaturated) consumption is imperative for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Chocolate can enhance your mood. Its ingredients include phenethylamine, which releases endorphins linked to pleasure; and anadamide, that triggers feelings of happiness and elation. Chocolate also increases serotonin levels in your brain, which can aid a variety of psychological functions, including sleep and appetite.
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The Amazing Human Heart: Heart Health Facts [Infographic]

Friday, February 13, 2015 12:00 PM comments (0)

A small but mighty organ, your heart accomplishes amazing feats with every single beat. This American Heart Month, get to know your heart better.

NorthShore University HealthSystem explains the inner workings of your heart and cardiovascular system and shares simple tips to improve your heart health in our heart health infographic.

Click on the image below for our full infographic of heart health facts

 

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The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 10:54 AM comments (0)

Med DietHeart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Genetics, tobacco use, family history, obesity, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, stress and diet all contribute to this alarming statistic. Some heart-healthy changes are easier to make than others, but finding a balanced diet that appeals to the entire family, while also possibly lowering your risk for heart disease, might be easier and more enjoyable than you think.

Many studies have shown that the rates of heart disease as well as certain types of cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease were lower for those living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, researchers have been able to determine that diet played a significant role in keeping the community healthy and living longer. The fundamental components of that diet are known as the Mediterranean diet plan.

Philip Krause, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses the benefits of a Mediterranean diet plan and what makes it so great for your heart:

Focuses on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. On a typical American plate, meat is the star. On a Mediterranean diet plate, meat plays second fiddle to fresh fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains. When the focus on the meal shifts toward fresh fruits and vegetables, the result is a diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.

Puts the salt shaker away. Excessive salt consumption can raise your blood pressure, which may damage the arteries leading to your heart. And there’s no doubt about it: Americans consume too much salt. The Mediterranean diet diversifies the spice rack, favoring spices and herbs over salt.

Cuts down on red meat. Red meat is sidelined in favor of proteins that contain healthy fats like fish, poultry and nuts. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can be a very beneficial part of your heart healthy diet plan. 

Makes olive oil the main source of fat. Just say no to butter. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and this type of fat may help bring high cholesterol levels in the right direction. It also may help regulate insulin levels in those suffering from type 2 diabetes.  

Allows for a glass of red wine. This is a great perk for the older adherents of the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation (one four-ounce serving per day), red wine can be beneficial to your heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL cholesterol levels. 

Limits portion sizes and cuts the carbs. Just because the Mediterranean diet plan is healthy doesn’t mean recommended foods can be consumed in unlimited quantities. Watch your portion sizes as you would with any diet or dish. If both weight loss and heart health are goals, limiting portion sizes along with carbohydrate intake—reducing the consumption of bread, potatoes, rice by 50%—can markedly assist in weight loss.

#NSHearts the Mediterranean diet! Do you? What are your favorite heart-healthy recipes? 

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Prevent Heart Disease With These Surprising Heart Healthy Tips [Infographic]

Monday, February 09, 2015 12:54 PM comments (0)

With 25% of the American population suffering from heart related problems, it's extremely important for everyone to carefully monitor their health, and take the necessary precautions to avoid heart disease.  The most common ways to prevent heart disease include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, going to the doctor frequently and avoiding smoking. However, there are ways to prevent heart disease that may surprise you! From snuggling to laughing, and even steering clear of traffic, there are plenty of unusual ways to practice a healthy lifestyle. 

Click on our health infographic below to view our 10 surprising ways to improve your heart health.

Heart-Health-Infographic

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The Best and Worst Foods for Your Heart

Wednesday, February 04, 2015 3:36 PM comments (0)

healthy foodNorthShore Hearts (#NSHearts) healthy eating and so should you. The importance of diet on the health of your heart can’t be overstated. A balanced diet contributes to one’s overall health and wellness, including maintaining weight, but certain foods can significantly improve your heart’s health while others can damage it. Know the difference and show your heart some love by eating heart healthy foods.

Jason Robin, MD, Cardiology at NorthShore, shares a few of the best and worst foods for your heart health:

You’re the Best!

  • Go nuts. Tree nuts are best for heart health: almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts. They are packed with protein and consist of unsaturated fats, which can help lower bad LDL cholesterol and boost your good HDL cholesterol. But, remember, unsaturated fat is still fat so consume tree nuts in moderation—no more than a handful, or about ¼ of a cup per day.
  • Cool beans. Lentils and black, pinto and garbanzo beans are full of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. They’re also rich in folate, a heart-healthy vitamin. Plus, they are the perfect substitute for animal proteins that are often high in saturated fats. 
  • Opt for oats. Perfect for cold weather and heart-healthy to boot, oatmeal contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, potassium and fiber, which can all lower those bad LDL cholesterol levels and help prevent artery blockage. Choose your oats wisely—coarse/steel-cut oats are best. 
  • Fish food. Fruit and vegetables should be the foundation of your healthy diet but adding a little heart-healthy fish can do wonders for the old ticker. Salmon is swimming in healthy omega-3s and antioxidants, which can keep blood pressure in check and potentially reduce one’s risk of dying from a heart attack. It also may decrease the risk of cardiac arrhythmias. If keeping wild salmon on hand is hard on your wallet, substitute mackerel, herring and sardines because they provide the same health benefits.
  • Check your oil. It’s the monounsaturated fats that make olive oil a heart-healthy super food. Monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol levels and can reduce overall risk for developing heart disease. If you are watching your weight, it’s still important to use olive oil in moderation (2 tbsp per day) because it’s high in calories. 

You’re the Worst!

  • Processed “meat”. Filled with sodium, preservatives, nitrates and nitrites, which have both been linked to heart problems, processed meat—bacon, sausage, hot dogs, even deli meats—are just about the worst animal-based protein you can include in your diet. In fact, even red meat is lower in saturated fats and higher in protein. 
  • Seeing red. Red meat might be better than processed meat but it shouldn’t be the foundation of your diet. Moderation is key when it comes to red meat. You don’t have to go without but consider going lean (less than 10 grams of fat and 4.5 grams of saturated fat per serving), which reduces saturated fats considerably. 
  • French fried. Artificial trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are inexpensive to produce and have a long shelf life, which is why they are found frequently in processed foods and restaurants that specialize in the use of the deep fat fryer. Remember: Fried foods are often fried in shortening, which is a trans fat. Trans fats have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. They lower good (HDL) cholesterol and raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. Fried foods are also very high in fat. Skip them altogether; however, if something must be fried, opt for a heart-healthy oil like olive oil. 
  • Stop the pop. Fat, cholesterol, high blood pressure are all key words that come to mind when discussing heart health but what about sugar? That’s right, sugar! When it comes to sugar, your favorite pop/soda certainly contains a lot of it. One 20-ounce bottle of pop contains 65 grams of sugar or the equivalent of 16 sugar cubes. Drinking just one can of pop per day has been linked to a possible 20% increase in the risk of heart attack in men and women. 
  • Feeling salty. Americans consume on average 3400 milligrams of sodium a day but the American Health Association recommends only 1500 mg per day. That’s a big difference. Diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure levels, leading to hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. So cut it out!  Set aside the salt shaker and start checking sodium levels in the foods you eat.

Find out what heart healthy tips and stories NorthShore hearts this American Heart Month by following #NSHearts on Facebook and Twitter

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Cervical Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 3:24 PM comments (0)

cervical cancerThough highly preventable and treatable if caught in its early stages, cervical cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. The most significant risk factor for cervical cancer is the sexually transmitted virus, human papillomavirus, or HPV.

There are over 100 different types of HPV that are broken down into two categories: low-risk HPVs, which rarely cause cancer but can cause genital warts, and high-risk HPVs, which may cause  cancer.  HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for upwards of 70 percent of all cervical cancers. 

Kerry Swenson, MD, PhD , OBGYN at NorthShore, stresses the importance of measures and tests that can prevent or identify cervical cancer in its early and most treatable stages: 

HPV vaccine. More than 80 percent of women will be exposed to at least one strain of HPV in their lifetime.  Thankfully, there is a vaccine that can protect against the four most common strains of HPV. The vaccine only works to prevent infection and is not effective if an infection is already present, which is why it is recommended that these vaccines are administered to girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26, and boys and men between the ages of 9 and 21.  It is best to complete the HPV series before any sexual activity takes place with a potential  exposure  to the HPV virus.   By protecting against HPV, the risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly reduced.  HPV vaccines do not provide protection against all cancer-causing HPV infections so regular screening is still important.

Pap and HPV testing. Regular screening with a Pap smear may identify cervical cancer or cellular changes of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Women should begin Pap tests at age 21 and every three years until age 30.  At age 30, cotesting with a Pap smear and high-risk HPV test should be performed every five years, unless otherwise directed by your physician.  

Well-rounded health. A healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise and quitting smoking all contribute to lowering one’s risk for cervical cancer as well as many other types of cancer. 

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Remember to raise awareness about cervical cancer prevention among the important women in your life this month and year-round. 

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