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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 


    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.


    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 


    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.


    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.


    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.


    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.


    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.


    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.


    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 


    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.


    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 


    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog: https://bit.ly/3KbVUA1.
    Click to Tweet

     

    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.


    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.

     

    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!


    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • March 02, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    Matthew Pierce, MD, certainly understands that not everyone has fond memories of their high school biology dissection assignments. Yet, that’s where his path toward becoming a physician began.

    “I really enjoyed them, and my teacher suggested I consider surgery as a career,” the Dallas-area native explains, adding that his choice of sub-specialty took a little longer. It wasn’t until his medical school rotation in Otolaryngology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston that the direction became clear.

    Why Otolaryngology?

    “I liked the versatility of the procedures, and the types of patients we saw,” Dr. Pierce says. He adds that the discipline, which also goes by the more common and less tongue-twisting name of ear, nose and throat (ENT), also appealed to his personality.

    “ENT surgeons can be classic ‘Type A’s,’ but I noticed most ENT surgeons were very approachable and love their job,” he says, adding with a laugh. “That may not be true for everyone, of course, but I really do enjoy my work.”

    That’s particularly true when treating cancer patients, which became Dr. Pierce’s clinical focus during his otolaryngology residency at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and his fellowship in head and neck oncology surgery and microvascular reconstruction at Yale University. He uses a variety of tools, including robotics and lasers to treat all types of benign and malignant tumors of the head and neck.

    Other Fields of Interest

    Indeed, Dr. Pierce considers treating cancer to be the most rewarding aspect of his work as an attending physician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. A close second may well be education. A current research project is exploring ways to reduce post-procedure complications among patients who have undergone tracheostomies and surgical airways. He also spends much of his time teaching trainees including medical students and residents.

    Dr. Pierce also has a longstanding interest in bringing his skills to disadvantaged areas around the globe, with medical trips having taken him to Ecuador, Bolivia, and American Samoa. Last year, he joined a medical team from Yale on a trip to the University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical School in Durban, South Africa.

    “They have great surgeons there, but only limited resources in certain areas,” Dr. Pierce says, adding that he’s seen his role on the trips evolve from surgeon to teacher. Along with providing professional lectures on various head and neck diseases, he also discussed ways to increase public awareness of these conditions, and urge them seek early treatment when symptoms arise.

    Future Plans

    While Dr. Pierce hopes to make international service a regular part of his career, his next overseas visit will have to wait. Along with a busy clinical schedule, he recently became engaged to an operating room nurse at Yale, who now works at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

    “You can imagine how we met,” he says, adding that he and his fiancé try to keep “shop talk” to a minimum while spending time outdoors on hiking and camping trips.

    Still, when the time is right for an overseas medical trip, Dr. Pierce will be ready to dig out his passport and pack his bags for whatever destination may need him.

    “Opportunities for cancer surgeons aren’t as common as those in other disciplines,” he says, “but I’m open to going anywhere I can make a difference.”

  • March 01, 2018

    By Jennifer Brown, MD

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s preventable. While symptoms of heart disease often don’t begin to appear until our 50s and 60s, plaque buildup in the arteries begins in our 20s and 30s.

    High cholesterol and high blood pressure contribute to the development of heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease, which is caused by fatty deposits inside the heart arteries, and heart failure, which is a weakened heart muscle that can’t pump enough blood for the organs to function properly.

    Symptoms of heart disease can include:

    • Angina, or mild, passing pain in the chest
    • Dizziness
    • Fainting
    • Fatigue
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Shortness of breath
    • Swollen legs

    If you haven’t noticed symptoms, a preventive cardiologist can help assess your risk and find strategies to reduce it. Once you notice symptoms, we can help improve them. You’re never too young—or too old—to start taking better care of your heart with these four basic strategies.

    To request an appointment with a cardiologist, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

    1. Eat heart-healthy foods

    When I meet a new patient, I always focus on nutrition first. It really is the best preventive medicine because dietary changes can help reduce risk factors dramatically. Many patients can reduce their need for medications. These positive effects also are true for diabetes and other systemic illnesses.

    A healthy diet is a lifestyle change for the long haul, not a temporary weight-loss gimmick. Once you embrace the change and start to see and feel the benefits, sticking to it becomes easier. After making changes and feeling better, patients will tell me, “I went out last night and had an extra piece of pizza, and I felt so sick afterward. I can’t imagine why I ever used to eat that way all the time!”

    Some basic tips about heart-healthy nutrition:

    • Avoid foods with high levels of saturated fats, such as beef
    • Eat lean protein, such as chicken or fish, in moderation
    • Eat mostly fruits and vegetables
    • Eat some healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocados
    • Eat small portions

    2. Know your numbers

    Three particular areas relating to diet and weight that I focus on with my patients are their body shapes, their body mass index and their sodium intake.

    Don’t be an apple

    Waist size can be a screening tool to estimate our cardiac disease risk, because abdominal fat is linked to increased risk of heart disease.

    To measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hip bones. Breathe out, and then measure the circumference. For women, risk goes up with a waist size that is more than 35 inches. For men, the risk is greater with a waist circumference of 40 or more. Your goal should be to make sure your waistline is less than those numbers.

    Body mass index (BMI)

    Everyone should know their BMI, or body mass index. This number is an estimate of body fat. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s free BMI calculator can help you find your current BMI. You also can download their free BMI calculator apps for iPhones and Android smartphones.

    The higher your BMI, the higher your cardiac risk. Unless we’re very careful about keeping these numbers in check, we can be doing damage to our arteries and hearts for years without knowing it.e

    Sodium and blood pressure

    Excess sodium in the diet raises blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. Hypertension is called a silent killer because it does not cause symptoms. Patients often don’t notice the consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure until it has already caused negative cardiac affects. Patients should routinely measure their blood pressure at home and make sure they are at goal, less than 120/80 mm Hg. Keeping your sodium intake down is a great way to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. The goal for sodium intake is 1500 – 2000 mg daily.

    Related reading: What do the new blood pressure guidelines mean?

    3. Get heart-healthy exercise

    Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. It’s never too late to start! For example, I had a patient in his early 70s who had been living a fairly healthy lifestyle until about five years prior, when he started to get some arthritis in his joints. Because of the pain, he exercised less and slowly gained about 50 pounds. His blood pressure and cholesterol went up, and he started to develop occasional chest discomfort.

    We did some tests and found mild coronary artery disease. The first thing I recommended was a heart-healthy lifestyle:

    • Less animal protein, especially red meat
    • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption
    • Reduced processed foods and refined sugars

    Because of his arthritis, he couldn’t do high-impact exercises like running. We helped him find an aquatics program that allowed him to exercise in a pool, which was much more tolerable on his joints.

    Over about six months, he lost nearly all of the weight he’d gained. His systolic blood pressure went from 150 down to 110, and he avoided having to start taking cholesterol medicine. His chest pain improved as well. His quality of life is much improved!

    4. Control risk factors for heart disease

    Jennifer Brown holding a model of a human heart

    Jennifer Brown, MD - Cardiologist

    Preventive cardiology with a focus on healthy foods, regular exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle will benefit young and old alike. However, it may not be enough on its own for people who smoke, have a family history of heart disease or have certain uncontrolled conditions.

    Family history

    If you have a parent, sibling or child with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease or heart failure, particularly at a young age, you may be genetically more likely to develop these conditions. It’s important to recognize this risk factor and seek preventive cardiology for further optimization of risk factors.

    Smoking

    Smoking damages the heart and arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your body and organs. Any amount of smoking, even occasionally, damages the heart and blood vessels. If you smoke, I definitely recommend quitting. If you need help to quit smoking, request an appointment now.

    Uncontrolled conditions

    We all need to get yearly checkups with a doctor who does lab work and checks our vital signs. If your blood pressure or cholesterol is creeping up over time, you may be able to correct it with dietary changes, exercising more and watching sodium intake before the need for medicines or other treatments.

    There are highly effective, inexpensive treatments to manage chronic conditions, and knowing your numbers is very important to keep them in check. It’s also a good idea to ask for a copy of your records, so you can know your numbers.

    Use myMedStar.org to access your medical records so you can #knowyournumbers, such as #bloodpressure or cholesterol levels. You may be able to prevent or curtail “heartdisease. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet


    I have seen many patients absolutely change their path by making lifestyle adjustments. They’re able to come off medications, start exercising more and achieve a healthier lifestyle and a better quality of life. It is never too late to take care of your heart!

  • February 28, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    By Brendan Furlong, MD, Chief of Service, Emergency Department, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital  

    During cold winter weather, the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Emergency Department sees an increase in patients with viral infections and potential complications, including pneumonia. 

    Common Infection, Serious Consequences 

    Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The most common causes are the influenza virus and the pneumococcus bacteria. Pneumonia can become deadly when the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, preventing oxygen from reaching the blood and vital organs. This can cause a complication called sepsis.

    At-Risk Populations

    Pneumonia triggers mild to severe illness in people of all ages, but it is especially harmful to some. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children younger than five years of age worldwide. People aged 65 and older are also at higher risk for pneumonia-related hospitalization and death.

    Others susceptible to pneumonia include people who have underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic conditions; smokers; pregnant women; and children and adults with compromised immune systems.

    When to See the Doctor

    Although it is sometimes difficult to know when a simple cold has developed into pneumonia, some clues may include:

    • Sputum-producing cough with deep congestion
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Persistent fever

    Seek medical attention immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, discoloration of the lips, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness or confusion, or signs of dehydration. Call your doctor if your milder symptoms do not improve within four weeks or if they worsen.

    Treatment

    Pneumonia is typically treated with antibiotics when caused by bacteria. When pneumonia is caused by fungi, it is typically treated with anti-fungal medication.

    You can prevent the spread of respiratory infections by covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

    Prevention is Key

    Vaccines can help prevent bacterial pneumonia and pneumonia-causing infections such as the flu. Vaccine recommendations vary based on age and medical conditions. Although the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are generally given annually, ask your doctor which vaccines are right for you or your loved ones, based on age, underlying health conditions, and other factors that may put you at a higher risk of infection.

    Self-Care for a Better Recovery

    Reduce your chance of getting pneumonia by managing existing medical problems and practicing good health habits: get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, and eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C and other antioxidants. 

    You can also prevent catching or spreading respiratory infections by:

    • Washing your hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces
    • Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
    • Avoiding contact with others who are sick, especially those with a fever

    Taking care of yourself every day is an important part of preventing and lowering your risk of infection or further complications from pneumonia and other diseases.

    Request an Appointment

    To make an appointment with one of our physicians, call 202-342-2400

    Visit MedStarGeorgetown.org/ED for more information about the Emergency Department.

    Every 2 minutes, someone in the United States dies of sepsis.

  • February 26, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    Many heart failure patients rely on left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), which are amazing medical implants that pump blood throughout the body. LVADs can mean the difference between life and death for patients whose hearts are no longer strong enough to pump on their own.

    These increasingly common devices are an effective option as a patient waits for a heart transplant or as long-term treatment if they don’t qualify for a transplant. Before the mid-2000s, we implanted only around five LVADs per year. Today, we implant 18 times as many at the rate of about 90 a year!

    LVADs literally give advanced heart failure patients a second chance at life. I love when they tell me, “I’ll get to see my grandkids grow up” or “I’m going to finish my college degree.” In my experience, the people who do the best with their LVADs are those who look at the glass as being half-full, rather than half-empty.

    Having an LVAD requires planning ahead and doing things a little differently, and we help our patients focus and figure out how it’s going to work for them going forward. Below are five of the most common pieces of advice I share with my advanced heart failure patients.

    To request an appointment with one of our heart failure specialists, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

    1. Avoid swimming and baths

    For the rest of your life after LVAD implantation, you’ll have a cable called a driveline sticking out of your stomach area. That cable goes to a controller and batteries that keep your device going. None of the LVAD components outside your body can get wet. That means you won’t be able to go swimming after receiving your LVAD, nor will you be able to take a bath or get into a hot tub.

    Your care team will give you a special bag or apparatus to protect the outer parts of your device in the shower. I also recommend putting your controller and batteries a safe distance away from the shower to keep them from getting wet accidentally. It’s usually a good idea to change your driveline site dressing just after taking a shower to make sure the site stays clean and dry.

    2. Rethink wardrobe choices

    Because of how the driveline, controller and battery packs are designed, they have to be worn outside the body. Many patients wear them on a pocketed belt or vest to carry the various pieces. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck wearing something that looks like Batman’s utility belt everywhere you go.

    I’ve seen some creative workarounds from LVAD patients. One surprising option comes from the world of law enforcement, where police officers may have to conceal weapons underneath street clothes. Concealed-carry tank tops can be worn like an undershirt, with the pockets keeping your LVAD components undercover.

    Several years ago, I was at a panel hosted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when a new LVAD was up for final approval. A woman walked in who I originally thought was one of the manufacturer’s representatives. It turns out she was a patient who had been living with the device as part of a clinical trial. She was wearing a skirt above her knees and high heels—uncommon clothing choices for an LVAD patient due to the equipment. I couldn’t see where her controller and batteries were at first. It turns out she had come up with an innovative way to hide her LVAD equipment in her purse, with her driveline going from her dress to her bag almost unnoticeably.

    Related reading: The journey of LVAD technology for advanced heart failure

    3. Sleep soundly with your new closest companion

    If you thought your dog was your best friend, think again. After LVAD surgery, your controller will be. And much like a bed-hogging dog, your LVAD controller has some specific demands for how and where you’ll be allowed to sleep.

    Unfortunately for people who sleep on their bellies, this position can press or pull on the driveline. I recommend sleeping on your back or side. The main thing is to make sure the driveline doesn’t get pulled or tangled while you sleep.

    Also, you’ll need to plug your device into a power outlet while you sleep, because you may not be able to hear or respond to the controller’s normal low-battery alarm. You may need to sleep on the other side of the bed or move it closer to a power outlet. In case of a power outage, make sure you have these items near your bed:

    • Backup controller
    • Charged batteries
    • Flashlight

    4. Exercise, but do so carefully

    Exercise is important to health after LVAD surgery, but certain activities can put your LVAD equipment at risk and endanger your life. Patients should avoid any contact sports, or sports that involve touching other players. I also recommend against taking part in activities with a high risk of falling. In addition to swimming and other water sports, some of these activities I recommend patients avoid include:

    • Football
    • Hockey
    • Horseback riding
    • Martial arts
    • Skiing
    • Soccer

    That said, some of my patients have found ways to keep enjoying the activities they love. I have several patients who love to shoot hoops and one who routinely rides his motorcycle down to Florida. So it is possible, but you will have to discuss the appropriate precautions with your doctor.

    Cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of recovery after LVAD surgery. This supervised exercise program will help you get back up to speed after your procedure, and you may find that you can be more active after getting your LVAD than you were able to do before.

    Cardiovascular, or cardio, exercise is important for heart health, especially with an LVAD. Walking, jogging, jumping rope, playing golf or gardening are just some of the options patients with an LVAD can do. Strength training, such as lifting free weights, is important as well for building muscle and controlling weight.

    5. Take care when traveling

    Many of my patients are concerned about traveling with their drivelines and other metal components, especially if they fly frequently for work. The good news is that there are enough people with LVADs now that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers should be familiar with the procedures for them. Before your trip, it’s a good idea to review the TSA’s special procedures for people with disabilities and medical conditions, particularly the sections “Implants & Internal Medical Devices” and “External Medical Devices.”

    Make sure you take backup batteries and an extra controller in a carry-on bag. Talk to your medical team before you travel, as they can provide a letter to allow you to keep all your LVAD-related equipment with you on the plane instead of in checked luggage. You most likely will need to have a pat-down inspection at security checkpoints, so tell the officer where your driveline is to avoid any problems.

    Oftentimes, the bigger issue for patients is being near somewhere that can care for an LVAD in case of an emergency. I see this happen frequently, especially for patients who come here to have our team implant their LVAD and then return to their home countries afterward. Any problem, even minor ones, become major crises when you don’t know where to go to get help.

    That’s one of the reasons I created MyLVAD, a resource for patients and loved ones to deal with the challenges of having an LVAD. We’ve published a smartphone app called the MyLVAD Hospital Locator. This app, available on both the App Store for iPhones and the Google Play store for Android phones, lists every single LVAD center in the world and finds the closest one based on your phone’s current location. To date, there are about 280 centers listed, and we update the data every year.

    Say you’re on vacation out of the country with your family, and your device’s alarm goes off. You can open the app and find:

    • Which LVAD centers are closest
    • What devices they use
    • Contact information for the LVAD centers

    As of December 2017, MyLVAD is the only LVAD app in the world with that level of information for patients.

    If you’re interested in learning more about LVADs and how they could improve your quality of life during heart failure treatment, call 202-877-3627 to schedule an appointment with one of our advanced heart failure specialists.

    Request an Appointment

  • February 21, 2018

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    A patient recently told me she was working to improve her fitness and had noticed unusual spikes in her heart rate during exercise.

    "Here, let me show you.” She brought out her phone and showed me an app that tracked her heart rate. The graph clearly showed jumps at occasional times during exercise. We diagnosed an abnormal heart rhythm and successfully treated it with medication. My patient continues to use the app to monitor her heart rate during exercise.

    Health and fitness app usage grew by more than 330 percent in the past three years, making it an exciting time of empowerment in health care. Our patients aren’t the only ones using this technology. My healthcare colleagues and I use these same devices, and it’s exciting to talk to patients about how to use them and how the MedStar Health system is working to improve the future of such technology. Currently, our cardiologists use heart and fitness apps in two ways.

    LISTEN: Dr. Taylor discusses the role of health and fitness apps in heart health in this Medical Intel podcast.

    Two ways fitness apps help with heart health

    1. Set goals and monitor fitness

    Apps and wearables are especially useful when we work with patients to set fitness and dietary goals, such as:

    • How many steps to take each day
    • How much physical activity time they should have
    • Upper and lower limits of certain foods for a heart-healthy diet

    Once those goals are set, we can track progress. I find the apps can really help with accountability and motivation. Patients have told me it’s easier to put down that second helping of dessert if they know they’ll have to add it to a food diary app. Similarly, it’s easier to keep going down the right fitness path when you can see right on your smartphone that you’re moving in the right direction. Some apps can even serve as a kind of personal coach, suggesting adjustments, offering encouragement and celebrating successes.

    2. Diagnose and monitor heart conditions

    Along with setting goals and monitoring fitness, there’s also great promise in using these technologies to diagnose and manage heart problems. As illustrated by the patient I mentioned earlier, these apps can help us detect abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation (A-fib). The earlier we can diagnose and begin to treat problems like these, the better chance we have to prevent them from getting worse.

    Apps also provide an opportunity for doctors to get a more complete picture of a person’s health, as they go about their daily lives. Let’s face it—many people only see their doctor once or twice a year, so there’s a lot of time in between when something might happen that we can’t detect during an office visit. For example, it’s not unusual for a person to have white-coat hypertension, or higher-than-normal blood pressure readings at the doctor’s office. By monitoring your blood pressure at home with a blood pressure cuff connected via Bluetooth technology, we can get a more accurate record of your daily measurements and better tailor your blood pressure medication.

    A more complex example would be today’s pacemakers, which are wired with special apps to monitor fluid status. So even before a patient can feel the effects of fluid retention, the pacemaker will warn us so we can take action. These are just a few ways for how we currently use these apps and wearables to help us monitor heart health, but their future potential is enormous.

    Protect your privacy

    As our lives continue to become more digital, we must be aware of privacy concerns and acknowledge, identify and mitigate potential risks.

    Just as you wouldn’t speak your personal health information to just anyone, you shouldn’t input it into just any health or fitness app. Before you download an app, read the disclaimer so you understand how your information will be used, including whether it will be shared with third-party sites.

    If you’re transmitting sensitive health information to your healthcare provider, make sure they use a secure portal. Finally, safeguard your personal devices by updating software and ensuring security patches are in place. Device manufacturers are increasingly attentive to the risks of hacking and data breaches and are learning to prevent them, but it’s up to all of us to protect our personal information.

    How we’re shaping the future of healthcare apps

    We’re always seeking ways to leverage our modern digital world for better and more efficient care. In fact, one such app developed by MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute’s interventional cardiology director, Dr. Lowell F. Satler, allows real-time interactions between doctors and referring practitioners to use their smartphones to rapidly—and securely—transmit data to get heart attack patients faster treatment.

    We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the clinical potential of health and fitness apps for heart care. Talk to your doctor about how these devices can help you take charge of your heart health or manage an existing heart condition.

    To request an appointment with one of our cardiologists, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

  • February 19, 2018

    By Harjit K. Chahal, MD

    The most common symptoms of a heart attack occur in both men and women: chest pain or pressure and arm pain that radiates to the back, neck or jaw. Emergency department doctors follow a specific protocol when a patient comes in with heart attack symptoms.

    Just for women: Learn your personal risk for heart disease.

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    But after the patient is stabilized and discharged, women tend to fare far worse than men. A recent study funded by the British Heart Association and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women were three times as likely as men to die within a year of having a heart attack.

    Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States, taking the life of one woman every 80 seconds in the U.S. But with a condition that’s so common, why does care for women lag so far behind? The answers lie with both the patients and the providers.

    What patients can do

    First and foremost, many women have difficulty putting their health first. With career, family and social obligations, many of us feel that we “just don’t have time to be sick.” Unfortunately, when it comes to heart health, ignoring symptoms or putting off treatment can have devastating consequences. For women, heart attack symptoms may be mild and vague and can include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Arm or shoulder pain without chest pain
    • Fatigue that lasts a couple of days
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Poor sleep
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating

    Women, if you have these symptoms or you just don’t feel right, get to the emergency department right away. I’ve cared for patients who thought they just had severe gas but actually were suffering a heart attack. Had these women not followed their instincts and sought emergency help, they could have suffered severe heart damage or died as a result of their heart attacks.

    It’s also vital that women see a doctor regularly to proactively manage their overall health and heart health. While it can feel like a chore to see the doctor when you aren’t sick, regular physical exams can help us pinpoint risk factors such as high cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar before tragedy strikes.

    What providers can do

    As primary care doctors, cardiologists and specialists, our No. 1 goal is to reduce illness and help patients achieve and maintain healthy lives. We must take it upon ourselves to become familiar with our patients’ risk factors and work together to protect their hearts.

    We can divide a woman’s risk factors for heart disease into two categories: factors they cannot control and factors they can control. Fortunately, the list of nonmodifiable includes just two factors: family/genetic history and getting older. We can’t change our DNA, and heart disease risk increases for everyone as we age. However, we can offer preventive therapies, such as statin medications, stenting or lifestyle modification plans to reduce the risks associated with these factors as women age.

    The list of controllable factors is substantially longer, and doctors can do a lot to help patients overcome these lifestyle-related risk factors:

    1. Behavioral conditions, such as depression and anxiety
    2. Excess alcohol use
    3. Excess weight around the waist, which is a factor of metabolic disease
    4. Lack of exercise
    5. Nutrition
    6. Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco
    7. Stress at work and home
    8. Uncontrolled high blood pressure
    9. Uncontrolled diabetes

    Many of these risk factors require special considerations for women. For example, starting at age 50, more women than men are likely to develop high blood pressure. Women with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely as men to develop coronary heart disease.

    Before heart attacks happen, we must encourage our female patients to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and getting help for behavioral health conditions. Exercise is huge as well. Some research suggests that women derive more benefit from exercise and healthier eating habits than men to reduce their heart disease risk, and we should help patients find exercise plans that fit their abilities and schedules.

    Women with Type 2 #diabetes are twice as likely as men to develop #heartdisease. Get screened and reduce your risk! https://goo.gl/2qgvik via @MedStarWHC
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    Advances in women’s heart health

    The heart team  at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center has made amazing strides in women’s heart testing and ongoing patient care. In the past, heart disease risk-calculation data was derived from an older, male population. Today, patients can benefit from new screening and diagnostic testing that provides more widely relevant data across all ages and genders. One such test is coronary calcium scoring, which can be done in as little as 15 to 20 minutes and can provide deeper insights into a patient’s personal risk.

    Our heart team includes experts in imaging and interventional cardiology to effectively assess heart disease in women. In the past, stress tests could cause a lot of false positives in women, and the best way to get an accurate diagnosis was catheterization. Now, we offer noninvasive angiographies, so we often can avoid catheterization. When catheterization is necessary, we often can use a transradial approach and enter a blood vessel through the wrist rather than the groin. This technique is more comfortable and associated with less complications for women.

    Women are also having better outcomes with bypass surgery here at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute thanks to our excellent cardiac surgery team working in tandem with cardiac rehabilitation, as part of patient discharge planning. We provide a standard of care for all of our patients that includes preparation instructions for procedures, education about disease management and follow-up care and red flags that should signal them to come to the doctor.

    If you have any concerns about your heart health—no matter how minor your condition may seem—visit your doctor. Be sure to accurately describe your symptoms and don’t downplay anything. Together, we can help avoid heart health emergencies and protect your health for years to come

    To request an appointment with one of our cardiologists, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

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