By Maureen Deutermann, MSN, R.N.
Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center
He was my hero, my mentor, my friend. His frequent compliment, “You look so pretty, honey,” did more to build a gawky teenager’s self-esteem than any other words. He encouraged me to pursue not only nursing, but a college degree as well. My daughter fondly remembers his standard telephone greet- ing: a boisterous rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas!” He had a wonderful heart, but not a healthy one. He was my fa- ther, and when he died of cardiac arrest 25 years ago, a light went out in my life.
While I hope I inherited some of my father’s wonderful traits, I know for sure that I inherited one of the risk factors which contributed to his heart disease: high blood pressure. Fortunately, years ago uncharacteristic headaches led me to have my blood pressure checked. It was sky high for a woman in her early thirties. I say “fortunately” because the onset of high blood pressure often has no symptoms, ergo its nickname of the “silent killer.”
So it is with other risk factors for heart disease. High cholesterol doesn’t come up and introduce itself, and some 7 million Americans are unknowingly walking around with diabetes. While heart disease remains the biggest killer in this country, it is also one of the most preventable if risk factors are recognized and treated.
What can one do to beat it? First, know that you are what your parents are. If they had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, you are at greater risk for these conditions.
Secondly, know your numbers. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked recently, or have not had a blood test to check your lipid profile (total, LDL, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides) or a fasting glucose test, do it! What you don’t know could kill you.
Third, take stock of your habits. Being overweight, sedentary and poorly managing stress all contribute to an increased risk. And smokers beware: heart disease kills far more smokers than lung cancer does.
For your loved ones’ sake as well as your own, adopt a proactive attitude toward health so that your light may shine on!