There is a strong history of heart disease on both sides of Sharen Sleater’s family.
Her health problems began in her early 20s with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides; afflictions associated with heart disease.
It took her father’s death, who died at 67, to receive a fair diagnosis. She returned to Alaska with his autopsy in hand and warnings from an out-of-state coroner that she probably had a similar condition, she said.
“The (local) cardiologist didn’t believe me, which is common, but after running the appropriate tests he determined that I did indeed have heart disease,” she said. “Well, that was almost 19 years ago.”
Sleater and Jeanette Rogers, Soldotna residents and heart disease survivors, hosted a heart disease seminar Thursday evening at Central Peninsula Hospital. Signs, symptoms and precautionary measures were discussed with a small crowd.
CPH’s Denali Conference Room was filled with men and women. The presentation focused on women and heart disease, but much of the medical information discussed applied to both genders.
About half of the older crowd raised their hands when Sleater asked which attendants were cardiac patients.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Coronary heart disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, is the most common type of heart disease. In 2008, 405,309 people died from coronary heart disease, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In 2010, coronary heart disease alone was projected to cost the United States $108.9 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity, according to the American Heart Association.
Sleater began the presentation by discussing statistics and ethnicities that suffer a higher rate of heart disease and other conditions linked to heart disease.
“Hundreds of health problems fall under the umbrella of heart disease,” Sleater said.
There is a strong connection between heart disease and diabetes. More than nine million American women have diabetes — a number expected to rise due to growing obesity and physical inactivity rates. Diabetes increases the chances of developing heart disease and having a heart attack at younger ages, according to the American Heart Association.
Every year about 785,000 Americans have a heart attack for the first time. Another 470,000 who have already had one or more heart attacks have another attack, according to the American Heart Association.
If a person has diabetes they will most likely develop heart disease, Sleater said.
“It makes managing your health more difficult, because you’re balancing a diet for two different diseases,” she said.
Sleater also discussed heart disease, depression and stress.
The measures for maintaining a healthy heart were similar for all discussed issues. Staying active, eating well and watching one’s weight are imperative. Quitting smoking and considering an aspirin regiment also are important, she said.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a body mass index, a standard for determining a person’s percentage of body fat, of less than 25 percent and a waist circumference of less than 35 inches.
Sleater admitted she believed the guidelines were unrealistic for the older population. The most important thing attendants can do was stay active, she said.
Rogers focused the second half of the presentation on prevention. Managing stress at work is difficult, but reduction is possible through simple steps like deep breathing and taking short walks during breaks, she said.
She inhaled deeply, perhaps to demonstrate and to relieve herself. Rogers has managed her heart disease for four years.
Preparing a healthy lunch is less time consuming than people let on, she added.
“You need to commit to a heart healthy diet, which you can find guidelines for everywhere,” she said.
Sleater and Rogers organize a local cardiac support group. Every first Monday of the month, a speaker educates the group on a heart disease-related topic. An official from Soldotna Professional Pharmacy has discussed various cardiac medications. An education coordinator with CPH discussed diabetes’ correlation with heart disease.
Everything connected with long-term chronic illnesses, especially heart disease, is taught to the support group, Sleater said.
“We’ve had a person come in and talk to us about depression,” she said. “Anytime you have a life-threatening illness it’s coupled with depression.
“We want to educate the group and plant the idea that all the things they are going through are normal things that a lot of people have to deal with. They’re not alone.”
The organizers work for Women Heart, a national coalition for women with heart disease. The nonprofit has thousands of members nationwide, including heart patients and their families, health care providers and advocates.
Issues affecting women with heart disease are reflected in the organization’s proposed legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives. For example, HR 1032 and S442, The HEART for Women Act, could make heart disease and stroke treatment for women more effective through various measures. Last year, Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reintroduced the Senate bill.
A handful of Alaska politicians, including Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, support the bill, Sleater said.
Resources are readily available, but developing a relationship with your physician is important, the presenters stressed.