Sodium: What gives Caregivers and Cardiac Rehab Staff Nightmares

Working cardiac rehabilitation, one wants to take time off around Saint Patrick’s day and Easter. Often patients come in with weight up 10 lbs in one to three days, short of breath, swollen, and having elevated blood pressure. When asked, they report celebrating Saint Patrick’s day with sauerkraut and sausage, corned beef and cabbage, with lots of bread on the side, then celebrated Easter early with a ham dinner with gravy.

Caregivers take note, well-intentioned friends and family may have prepared meal or stocked freezers full of sodium laden foods thinking they are helping out during a  medical crisis. Be alert to sodium and it’s effect on heart health.  Programs such as  Meals on wheels also has a tendency to have very salty meals. 

If you find weight up, swollen feet/ankles/belly/face, shortness of breath and elevated blood pressure consider the  dietary sources of sodium. 

Sodium causes fluid retention, weight goes up,  and is often treated with increased diuretics (Lasix, Aldactone, Demedex, Bumex, Zaroxolyn etc.). The body can become resistant to diuretics however, so adding more and more diuretics can be dangerous. These throw off the electrolytes and disrupt the sodium potassium balance of the body, which can set in motion additional heart problems including arrhythmia’s – irregular heart beats that could be deadly. Other side effects of diuretics include:

  • increased blood glucose levels
  • increased calcium
  • increased cholesterol
  • potassium loss
  • increased uric acid, which might trigger a gout attack in certain people

Bought raw or in a can, corned beef brisket is very salty. One 3 ounce serving of cured corned beef has 964 mg of sodium, 40 percent of your daily value of sodium. In addition to sodium, corned beef is generally made from the fattier brisket areas, so the fat and cholesterol levels tend to be on the high side when compared to some of the more commonly available beef cuts. 1 cup of Cooked Sauerkraut has about 900 mg of sodium. Ham isn’t better – 4 oz. of ham can have between 1000 and 3000 milligrams of sodium. 

Sodium, Salt, Na, MSG, natural flavors, natural spices, Sodium Nitrate,

  • Monosodium glutamite,
  • Sea salt,
  • Disodium phosphate,
  • Baking soda,
  • Sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium algonate, are all names of sodium.

 If your diet is going be high in sodium, eat more potassium-rich foods. Potassium helps to lessen the dangerous effects of sodium. Foods high in potassium include bananas, potatoes, squash, spinach, raisins, cantaloupe, beans and lentils.

Rinsing foods such as sauerkraut, or canned beans or veggies in a colander can remove up to 40%. Read labels and aim for foods with 300 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.

 To learn more about salt and heart health click here

To learn more about how to lower sodium in diet click here.

To learn more about sodium and it’s effects on the body

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Calf Pain: It can be serious


Calf Pain is something we don’t ignore in Cardiac Rehabilitation programs. It can be a symptom of a number of things life threatening, severe or minor. So what are we looking for?

Symptoms of blood clot in leg

This is called Deep Vein Thrombosis  or DVT

Only about half of the people who have DVT have signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms occur in the leg affected by the deep vein clot. They include:

  • Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  • Pain or tenderness in the leg, which you may feel only when standing or walking
  • Increased warmth in the area of the leg that’s swollen or painful
  • Red or discolored skin on the leg

Pulmonary Embolism

Some people aren’t aware of a deep vein clot until they have signs and symptoms of PE. Signs and symptoms of PE include:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Coughing up blood

Rapid breathing and a fast heart rate also may be signs of PE.

Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together. Most deep vein blood clots occur in the lower leg or thigh. They also can occur in other parts of the body. A blood clot in a deep vein can break off and travel through the bloodstream. The loose clot is called an embolus. It can travel to an artery in the lungs and block blood flow. This condition is called Pulmonary Embolism or PE.

PE is a very serious condition. It can damage the lungs and other organs in the body and cause death. It’s fatal in up to 26% of cases.

Blood clots can form in your body’s deep veins if:

  • A vein’s inner lining is damaged. Injuries caused by physical, chemical, or biological factors can damage the veins. Such factors include surgery, serious injuries, inflammation, and immune responses.
  • Blood flow is sluggish or slow. Lack of motion can cause sluggish or slow blood flow. This may occur after surgery, if you’re ill and in bed for a long time, or if you’re traveling for a long time.
  • Your blood is thicker or more likely to clot than normal. Some inherited conditions (such as factor V Leiden) increase the risk of blood clotting. Hormone therapy or birth control pills also can increase the risk of clotting.

For Prevention measures to avoid blood clots click here

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease is the most common reason for amputations of toes, feet and legs. The risk factors that cause heart disease also cause poor blood flow to other areas of the body. Calf pain while walking is a warning sign for 50% who have blockages in the legs. If peripheral artery disease is an issue it needs to be closely monitored.

Signs and symptoms of P.A.D. include:

  • Weak or absent pulses in the legs or feet
  • Sores or wounds on the toes, feet, or legs that heal slowly, poorly, or not at all
  • A pale or bluish color to the skin
  • A lower temperature in one leg compared to the other leg
  • Poor nail growth on the toes and decreased hair growth on the legs
  • Erectile dysfunction, especially among men who have diabetes
  • Pain with walking or climbing stairs

People who have P.A.D. may have calf or leg pain, numbness, aching, or heaviness in the leg muscles pain or discomfort when walking or climbing stairs.  You might also feel include cramping in the affected leg(s) and in the buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. This discomfort may ease after resting.  About 10 percent of people who have P.A.D. have claudication. This symptom is more likely in people who also have blockages or atherosclerosis  in other arteries.

During physical activity, your muscles need increased blood flow. If your blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, your muscles won’t get enough blood, which will lead to symptoms. When resting, the muscles need less blood flow, so the symptoms will go away.

Learn more about Peripheral Artery Disease

Overuse Symptoms

A calf strain is an injury to the muscle.  When a muscle is strained, the muscle is stretched too far.  So stretching it isn’t going to make if feel better. Less severe strains pull the muscle beyond its normal excursion.  These often are seen when people are doing more walking than they are used to, such as walking treadmills – especially when the grade is elevated. Also these are seen from poor footwear. People who haven’t exercised in years may have poor footwear. I have seen patients come in wearing slippers, heels, broken down shoes that have no shock absorption.  More severe strains tear the muscle fibers and can even cause a complete tear of the muscle. Most commonly, calf strains are minor tears of some muscle fibers, but the bulk of the muscle tissue remains intact.

old shoes

The amount of discomfort helps to determine the severity of the injury. Calf strains are usually graded as follows:

  • Grade I Calf Strain: Mild discomfort, often minimal disability. Usually minimal or no limits to activity.
  • Grade II Calf Strain: Moderate discomfort with walking, and limited ability to perform activities, such as running and jumping; may have swelling and bruising associated.
  • Grade III Calf Strain: Severe injury that can cause inability to walk. Often patients complain of muscle spasm, swelling and significant bruising.

Muscle Cramping

A muscle cramp is a sudden, uncontrolled contraction of a muscle. This type of pain is most commonly  called a “charley horse.”

Leg cramps occur when the muscle suddenly and forcefully contracts.

Leg cramps usually last less than one minute, but may last several minutes before the contraction subsides. In some patients, the leg cramps occur primarily at night, and can awaken the patient from sleep. When the muscle cramp is severe or long lasting the muscles will be sore for a day or two following.

What causes a leg cramp?
The exact cause of a leg cramp is not well understood, but there are some risk factors that are thought to contribute to this condition:

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Heavy exercising
  • Dehydration
  • High weight (not necessarily obesity)
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Medications (statins, prednisone, lasix…)

The most common cause that is typically seen in patients who develop leg cramps is exercising in an unusual way, meaning either more activity or a different exercise. Leg cramps are more common in older patients. Patients who weigh more are more prone to developing leg cramps. Also, some medications can cause side effects of leg cramping. Cramping is something that should be brought to the attention of your health care provider as soon as possible

Sources: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dvt/

Exercise Induced Angina

Do you get chest discomfort with activity?

This is known as exercise induced angina. Angina is generally caused from not getting enough blood through the arteries to supply the walls of the heart with enough blood flow to adequately pump. Angina can be caused by blockage, injury or spasms. It can be particularly irritating when it comes on with exercise. Here are some things to know about symptoms you might experience when exercising.

  • Warm up adequately to prevent angina with activity/exercise.Try to do 5-10 minutes of very light exercise with minimal resistance before pushing the intensity up and before increasing the resistance on your exercise equipment. This allows the arteries to dilate – or widen thus increasing the ability to bring more blood flow to the heart.
  • Never try to push through angina, as it is a warning that your heart isn’t getting enough oxygenated blood. When symptoms come on reduce your exercise intensity to see if it will resolve. Many patients can back down for several minutes and the symptoms resolve. If the symptoms do not resolve use your nitroglycerin medication as prescribed.
  • Keep documentation of the frequency of the symptoms. In particular you are looking to see if the symptoms are coming on at a specific workload, or if the frequency of the symptoms is increasing.
  • If you watch your heart rates, most physicians will advise you to keep your exercise heart rates 10 points below where you get the onset of symptoms. It is recommended you purchase a heart rate monitor – a watch and strap for the chest to be able to gauge your exercise intensity from your heart rate. I am old school and hold allegiance to the Polar Heart Rate Monitors, they will run you about $50.
  • Recognize you are not a perfectly tuned machine, some days are going to be rough and you will need to take it easy. Many factors contribute to increased angina symptoms including increased  physical and emotional stress on the body, fighting illness, blood pressure, sleep, temperature being very cold or high heat and humidity, timing of medications, timing type and amount of food in the system, blood sugar, hormones…you get the picture.
  • Some patients will always have angina symptoms due to the injury to the heart, the size of the vessels, or spasm. It is important to work with you physician to determine what amount of angina is acceptable. With small vessel disease (microvascular angina) many have to accept a certain amount. It is often graded on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the worst, and some patients were allowed by their physicians to exercise with symptoms of 1-3 on the 1-10 scale if they did not have abnormal blood pressure or ekg changes and were free of symptoms such as shortness of breath. Gradually as they improved their physical conditioning their angina threshold (the intensity of exercise which produces symptoms) increased to where they could tolerate more intense workloads without symptoms worsening.

When is it angina dangerous?

There is a difference in stable and unstable angina. Stable angina is predictable. It can be triggered by emotional stress, exercise, exposure to cold air, after eating large heavy meals. It is relieved with rest, and doesn’t usually have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, profuse sweating, nausea associated with it.

Unstable angina is angina that is different as it can occur at rest or wake you from sleep. It is a change in the stable angina symptoms meaning the symptoms are more frequent, more intense – may require more nitro than usual to relieve symptoms. It may be paired with other symptoms, profuse sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness, a feeling of doom, lightheadedness. If you are experiencing symptoms of unstable angina you must contact your medical provider ASAP. Time is muscle and you don’t want to risk losing heart muscle.

Depression and Heart Conditions

Depression is common in heart patients. Most studies show 2 out of 3 patients will experience depression. Does depression cause heart disease or does heart disease cause depression? Probably both. We all have ups and downs, however when one finds them overwhelming and debilitating it is time to get help. According to the National Institute for Mental Health the following are the symptoms of depression:

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

One of the best things a person who is suffering from depression can do is to get daily exercise. Yet it is one of the hardest things to do when depressed. I would encourage patients to at a minimum schedule themselves 10 minutes per day of exercise. I know it is a very short duration, but it is a starting point. We build from there.  If you are a significant other of someone you suspect is depressed, don’t nag them to exercise, rather help them to engage in it. Offer to go for a walk, or go to the gym together.

For many suffering from depression winter can be especially difficult. The holidays may trigger episodes, a change in healthy eating habits to the holiday party foods, a change in exercise habits due to weather changes, getting out and socializing less due to weather, loss of loved ones,  and seasonal effective disorder can all be a catalyst for symptoms to worsen. If you note this contact your healthcare practitioner, consider counseling, increasing exercise, getting sunlight every day, and/or medications. It is important because if depression isn’t treated often heart disease worsens.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy

 

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/what-is-depression.shtml

 

 

Heart disease patients who have anxiety have twice the risk of dying from any cause compared to those without anxiety, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Patients with both anxiety and depression have triple the risk of dying, researchers said.

Many studies have linked depression to an increased risk of death in heart disease patients. However, anxiety hasn’t received as much attention. Studies show that depression is about three times more common in heart attack patients. The American Heart Association recommends that heart patients be screened for depression and treated if necessary.

Depressed heart disease patients often also have anxiety, suggesting it may underlie the risk previously attributed solely to depression. It’s now time for anxiety to be considered as important as depression, and for it to be examined carefully.”

In the study, 934 heart disease patients, average age 62, completed a questionnaire measuring their level of anxiety and depression immediately before or after a cardiac catheterization procedure at Duke University Medical Center. Patients had anxiety if they scored 8 or higher on a scale composed of seven common characteristics of anxiety, with each item rated from 0 to 3 (range of possible scores: 0-21). Depression was measured using a similar scale composed of seven symptoms of depression.

Researchers, after accounting for age, congestive heart failure, kidney disease and other factors that affect death risk, found that 90 of the 934 patients experienced anxiety only, 65 experienced depression only and 99 suffered anxiety and depression. Among 133 patients who died during three years of follow-up, 55 had anxiety, depression or both. The majority of deaths (93 of 133) were heart-related.

Researchers measured anxiety and depression during cardiac catheterization because levels better reflected how patients normally handle stressful situations. Anxiety and depression each influence risk of death in unique ways. Anxiety, for example, increases activity of the sympathetic (adrenaline-producing) nervous system that controls blood pressure.

People who worry a lot are more likely to have difficulty sleeping and to develop high blood pressure. The link between depression and mortality is more related to behavioral risk factors. Depression results in lack of adherence to medical advice and treatments, along with behaviors like smoking and being sedentary.

Future studies should test strategies to manage anxiety alone and with depression in heart disease patients.

Anxiety reducing medications combined with stress management could improve outcome for patients with just anxiety, whereas patients with anxiety and depression may need a stronger intervention involving more frequent outpatient monitoring and incentives to improve adherence.

Slowly getting there, comments from our cardiac health innovators? http://bit.ly/100zip5