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Carroll Hospital staff members advocate for heart health during awareness month

February is American Heart Month and a good time to implement new healthy habits, according to staff members at Carroll Hospital.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for men and women among most racial groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and this month the hospital is hosting a series of virtual events to raise heart health awareness.

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Pam Xenakis, a dietitian and a certified diabetes educator at Carroll Hospital, said she would like more people to understand the connection between diabetes and heart disease.

Xenakis, who was part of a virtual Q&A on the hospital’s Facebook group on Wednesday, said having diabetes, even well-controlled diabetes, can quadruple the risk for heart attack and heart disease.

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Pam Xenakis is the coordinator of the diabetes program at Carroll Hospital. Xenakis is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist.
Pam Xenakis is the coordinator of the diabetes program at Carroll Hospital. Xenakis is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

“When we think of risk factors for heart disease, we’re usually thinking of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, being sedentary, smoking, but diabetes is one of the bigger ones,” Xenakis said.

But there are many lifestyle choices that can be made to prevent heart disease and diabetes including exercising at least 150 minutes a week, reducing the intake of animal products and saturated fats, and consuming more fiber. Most significant is for those who smoke to quit.

“The less you can rely on processed food, the better your diet is going to be for heart disease and for cancer prevention,” Xenakis said.

Exercise is a significant component in preventing both and Xenakis recommends that individuals exercise at least 30 minutes each day and for those with diabetes to include strength training.

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Scott Morsberger, a physician assistant at Carroll Health Group Cardiology, said that now with the coronavirus pandemic staying on top of heart conditions is even more important.

“We do see a lot of patients that have COVID get really fast or really slow heart rates,“ said Morsberger who stressed that people have head heart attacks and strokes as a result of COVID-19. and that some people’s hearts have weakened as a result of contracting the virus.

Both Morsberger and Xenakis expressed concern that people have been delaying their care as a result of being afraid to leave their house during the pandemic.

“I understand people don’t want to go to the emergency room, but sometimes you can really endanger your health in an attempt to avoid COVID,” Morsberger said. “The emergency rooms, doctors offices are taking the right precautions. A lot of times there can be telehealth visits that are done.”

Morsberger said it is important to visit a doctor as soon as possible if any of the following symptoms are being experienced: chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or coughing blood.

For those with diabetes, Xenakis encouraged an appointment with a dietitian, which she says, is fully covered for those with Medicare.

Xenakis hopes that people will walk away from heart month taking symptoms more seriously, especially those with prediabetes, which is reversible.

“When someone finds out they have prediabetes, I want them to react the way they would if our doctor told them they had lice,” she said, “like, ‘What do I need to do to get rid of this.’ ”

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