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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:
    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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  • February 26, 2020

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    Most primary care physicians do an excellent job of managing common risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure. When you’re concerned about more serious heart issues, however, consider scheduling a visit with a heart specialist. Whether you’re looking for a new cardiologist or heart surgeon, or you’re interested in a second opinion on your health situation, here are some ways to find a qualified specialist in your area.

    1) Ask your primary care physician to start.

    Most general healthcare professionals interact frequently with cardiologists in their area and can recommend someone who has the right experience for your particular need. Don’t rely on friends and family members necessarily, as different cardiologists specialize in different types of heart health problems.

    2) Look for a medical center that has a program dedicated to your specific heart health issue.

    This is especially important if you have an advanced heart condition or require a surgical procedure. Dedicated programs are typically staffed by healthcare teams with extensive experience, special credentials, and the most up-to-date resources and treatments for your care. These programs also tend to offer an integrated team approach. That means everyone—from physicians and nurses to pharmacists to psychologists and social workers—works together on your behalf, all within the same organization. This collaboration can make a significant difference in how well your condition is monitored and managed.

    You can search online for dedicated programs at hospitals in your area. MedStar Health offers several programs in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region dedicated to specific heart health conditions. You can also look for hospitals that have received special recognition for their heart programs or accreditations by the Joint Commission, the nation’s largest independent healthcare evaluation organization. MedStar Washington Hospital Center and others in our hospital network have received several of these quality-of-care recognitions.

    @TaylorMHVICard has some advice when it comes to choosing a heart specialist in your area. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    3) Make an appointment to meet a specialist or surgeon.

    Most healthcare practices are happy to schedule an office visit with you for a new patient consultation. Come with specific questions, and don’t be shy about asking them. Healthcare professionals today are used to patients and caregivers who want to be involved and make informed decisions about their medical care. By having an upfront conversation with a new specialist, you can assess your personal comfort level with their expertise and their communication style. Both should be a good match for you.

    Some questions you might ask:

    • How can you help my particular problem?
    • How much experience do you have with it?
    • What can I expect?
    • What level of expertise and resources does this center offer?
    • Who else would be on my care team here, and how do you interact with those healthcare professionals and my own primary care physician?

    4) If you need a specific procedure, ask how many the surgeon has performed.

    Numbers don’t tell the whole story. But a heart specialist or surgeon who has performed a particular procedure on many patients is more likely to be skilled at it and experienced in any challenges it may present.

    You may also be able to find information on a hospital’s volume of procedures by requesting a copy of its annual “capabilities” or “performance” report. This report typically provides information about the number of procedures that have been performed, the outcomes, how well the hospital is rated by outside organizations, and more. You may be able to find this information on the hospital’s web site (see the 2019-2020 report for MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute).

    MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is prepared to help patients with needs along the full spectrum of heart-related issues. We encourage you to request an appointment with our heart care team, so we can discuss your heart health and recommendations that best meet your personal needs.

    Trust your heart to experts.

    Schedule time with a specialist.

    Call 202-644-9526 or  Request an Appointment

  • February 24, 2020

    By Ezequiel J. Molina, MD

    There is no doubt that the person best equipped to manage your heart failure is a specialist. To monitor symptoms in yourself or a loved one, here are three things to know:

    1) Be on the Lookout
    Be vigilant about noticing symptoms that won’t go away. Typically, the most common symptoms of advanced heart failure are shortness of breath (especially associated with exercise), fatigue, and swelling of the lower extremities, sometimes in the abdomen. You could have a rapid or irregular heartbeat. You could have chest pain, coughing or wheezing, or a more frequent need to urinate at night.

    If these symptoms persist, be very proactive and ask for a consultation with a cardiologist.

    2) Put Your Heart in the Care of a Specialist
    I am always puzzled when patients with symptoms of heart failure are not referred to a specialist. When a patient has a diagnosis of cancer, they go to see a cancer specialist.

    Yet there are almost 6 million patients living with this disease in the United States right now. There are approximately a quarter million patients dying of this issue each year, a surprisingly high number. And approximately a million new cases are diagnosed annually.

    3) You Will Receive Expert Care at the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
    If you are at risk of heart failure, or have started to exhibit symptoms, make an appointment to be examined by one of our specialists. We offer the full spectrum of therapies to treat and manage your disease, and we have one of the busiest, most advanced programs in the country. For example, we have implanted over 700 left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), mechanical devices that help the heart pump blood. We have also performed more than 300 heart transplants.

    MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute has the best multidisciplinary team to care for patients with advanced heart failure. Our heart transplant program has the best survival rates in the area, and patients can take part in a unique patient support program that can help improve their quality of life.

    Why It’s Important to See a Specialist Sooner Rather Than Later

    Let’s focus on symptoms. Patients may not realize it, but they can pass through a series of phases before becoming extremely sick. We need to see these patients when symptoms first appear.

    Heart failure has four stages—A, B, C, and D:

    • Stage A refers to patients at risk. These patients don’t have any apparent changes in their hearts, but may have high blood pressure or diabetes, for instance, and this puts them at risk of developing heart failure.
    • Stage B includes patients who have had changes in their heart, but who still manifest no symptoms.
    • In Stage C, patients begin to exhibit symptoms, although not severe. Patients can perhaps still perform routine physical activities around the home, but probably not very physical ones. They're typically not taking a lot of medication.
    • Stage D is the end stage, and these patients are the most symptomatic. If we get a referral for a patient who needs a heart transplant or LVAD at the very end of Stage D, that patient may not be eligible for treatment. Ideally, patients should be examined much earlier, before things reach this critical stage.

    The Right Treatment at the Right Time

    There are always opportunities to take action at each stage of heart failure, and we have many viable approaches and treatment options, such as medications, pacemakers, minimally invasive surgeries, LVADs, and transplants.

    But the first thing patients can do in the early stages of the disease is to begin adopting a healthier lifestyle—for example, quitting smoking or losing weight. Avoid alcohol. Eat a well-balanced diet. Engage in more physical activity and stress management. All these approaches are important and helpful.

    There are always opportunities to take action at each stage of heart failure, says Dr. Ezequiel Molina. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    Medications: Second Line of Defense

    If patients exhibit advancing disease, several medications may prove useful.

    Some medications lower the blood pressure, while some slow down the heart rate. Others aid kidney function. Diuretic medications help the body to eliminate water. Certain medications act on the muscle cells in the heart to stop the destructive changes that heart failure can cause.

    And an array of newer medications looks promising. Although not a cure, these medications are very effective, may delay the need for surgery or more invasive approaches, and are beginning to play a key role in management of the disease.

    ...And Beyond Medication

    • Defibrillators and Pacemakers When a patient is using medication and has already made lifestyle changes, yet the disease continues to progress, the specialist has several options, such as introducing an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), or a newer, more complex pacemaker based on cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), which optimizes the way your heart beats and improves the coordination between the two ventricles.
    • Surgical Management Some patients have conditions amenable to surgical management. For example, where blocked coronary arteries are involved, a bypass operation may reverse the condition and be a life-saving solution.Along with the bypass operations, we know that valvular surgery is very important. For some patients, the disease is caused because one or two valves are not functioning well, so valve surgery can be an important tool there as well.I frequently operate on patients whose hearts are weak, with blockages of the coronary artery. Six to twelve months after we perform a bypass, their cardiologist calls to say “Remember your coronary artery bypass on my patient whose heart contraction strength was very low? We just did an echocardiogram in the clinic, and his heart looks normal.” That sort of result is not unusual.
    • Advanced Surgical Therapies Certain patients are not candidates for bypass because their arteries are too damaged or other issues are present. In these cases, we can apply two more advanced forms of therapy—LVAD implantation and heart transplantation.When patients develop this advanced form of heart failure, their mortality is as bad as some of the deadliest cancers, such as lung and pancreas cancer. LVAD and heart transplantations may become the only life-saving alternatives at this point. However, patients are often referred late, when they are too sick to be candidates.

    Early Referrals Can Improve Lives

    Early referrals are key to achieving good outcomes for our patients. When it comes to advanced heart failure, your care team at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute will recommend and implement treatment options that will help to best mitigate the ongoing risk to your heart.

    So, take heart. We’re here for you.

    Have persistent symptoms?

    Our specialists can help.

    Call 202-644-9526 or  Request an Appointment

  • February 21, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    When Malkia White found out her kidney was functioning at 12 percent, she knew finding a living donor would increase her chances of receiving a transplant. So, she created a Facebook page called “That Girl Needs a Kidney” to spread the word on how to be a living donor and why it’s so important.

    Finding a living donor can shorten your wait.

    Over 30 million people in the US are estimated to have Chronic Kidney Disease and almost 50% of patients with severely reduced kidney function are unaware of it. Options for patients with kidney function less than 20% are either kidney transplantation or dialysis. However, the wait can be several years for a deceased donor kidney transplant with about 100,000 people on the wait list. Many patients do not live long enough to receive a transplant with 13 people on the wait list dying every day.

    There is another option other than deceased donor kidney transplantation and that is receiving a kidney from a living donor. One of the major advantages of finding a living donor is reducing the wait time from years to months with the time needed to schedule surgery being as short as 4-6 weeks if not shorter. This could be the difference between life and death. That’s why Malkia—and many others—have taken their search to social media.

    If you need a kidney transplant, finding a living donor can reduce your wait time from years to months. Dr. Beje Thomas shares how social media can help via @MedStarHealth’s #LiveWellHealthy blog. #DonateLife
    Click to Tweet

    If they do not know, they cannot donate.

    If you do not tell your friends and family that you need a kidney, they will never know. And if they do not know, they cannot help.

    Did you know a living donor doesn’t have to be blood-related? Anybody over the age of 18 that is healthy can be a donor. They undergo extensive testing in order to be approved to be a donor.

    Social media allows you to quickly share your story with your entire network of friends and family. What’s more, your social circle can share your story with their networks, allowing more people to hear about your need for a donor.

    Here are tips to get your search started on social media.

    Finding a living donor online may sound overwhelming when you’re feeling the physical and emotional stress of kidney disease and dialysis. But sharing your story on social media is quicker and easier than you may think.

    Popular social media channels include Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Each channel has its benefits, but Facebook may be your best option for quickly getting your message out to more people.

    Try these tips to get started in your living donor search:

    1. Create a page separate from your personal account.

    It’s important to maintain a boundary between your private life and your public search for a kidney, so consider creating a Facebook page that is separate from your personal profile.

    If you’re not tech-savvy or the social media world seems intimidating, ask a family member, friend, or even someone at your transplant center to help you.

    You should not mention your blood type. If a potential donor does not have a compatible blood type to you, we can place you and your donor in a paired kidney exchange program.

    2. Create a memorable name and hashtag for your page.

    A unique name can help your story stay fresh on the minds of those who visit your page. Malkia named her page “That Girl Needs a Kidney” because it clearly expressed what she needed, and it was easy for people to remember.

    Using hashtags on your posts will allow other people searching for those hashtags to find your story, which can increase your visibility. For example, someone in New York who is interested in becoming a living donor may search #BeADonor on Facebook and find one of your posts.

    You can come up with your own hashtags, but it’s also a good idea to use popular terms associated with living donation, including:

    • #KidneyTransplant
    • #BeADonor
    • #LivingDonor
    • #DonateLife

    Tagging organizations that you trust can also be a great way to get your message to those interested in being a living donor. (You can even tag @MedStarHealth!)

    3. Tell your story.

    Be honest about what you’re going through and how people can help. You may want your story to include things like:

    • Your personal journey to diagnosis
    • How your disease has impacted your life
    • Your family (and why they cannot donate)
    • How long you’ve been on the waitlist
    • Your transplant center’s contact information

    It can be hard to write about yourself, but it’s important for people to relate to your story. Recent kidney-transplant recipient John Bayton asked for help from a friend to create a story that would resonate. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others if you’re struggling to find the right words!

    4. Post photos and videos that educate others.

    Malkia uses her page as a platform to educate followers on the reality of renal failure. She shares enough detail to help people understand her personal experience but is careful not to share photos or videos that may be too graphic. She also posts encouragement for others who are going through the same things.

    John suggests looking at what you follow to see what kind of things will engage your followers and generate more views for your page. “What are you most likely to respond to? Share those kinds of things,” he says.

    5. Encourage friends and family to share.

    Post ‘likes’ are great for boosting confidence, but what’s more impactful is when people share your posts because that’s how your story spreads to a wider audience.

    "I have so much more to live for,” says Malkia. “I tell everybody to please share my page and posts. And if you’re not tech-savvy, find someone who is so they can show you how to click the share button.”

    6. Share carefully and legally.

    You’ll want to provide a way for interested living donors to get in touch with you, but you may not want strangers to reach you 24/7 on your cell phone.

    Malkia uses a landline number that she checks periodically. This way, she doesn’t have to worry about receiving calls at midnight and it protects her privacy. Another option is to use technology like GoogleVoice to set up a number that can forward calls wherever you’d like them to go.

    Your transplant center can advise you on ways to share health information cautiously. Remember that it is illegal to exchange money, services, or goods in exchange for a donated organ.

    7. Create a free personalized donor search website.

    MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, in partnership with the National Kidney Registry offers recipients a free personalized website which allows you to share your story and the reason you need a kidney. This website has a direct link to the donor questionnaire for anyone who would like to consider donating to you. You will also receive 250 business cards with your website link to pass out in order to further share your story. If you are interested in creating a personalized website, contact your transplant coordinator.

    Surround yourself with support while you wait.

    You may find a living donor right away—or it may take a lot of time and effort. It’s normal to feel discouraged but stay positive and keep trying. It only takes one donor to get a transplant!

    Support groups can help you stay motivated during your search. Whether you join a support group online or in person, you’ll find people who will understand what you’re going through and can offer advice.

    Malkia and John both attend monthly support groups offered through the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

    “You all have one thing in common. You're either looking for a kidney, you're on dialysis, you've had a transplant, or you're a caregiver or family member who's providing care to someone in those categories. It's nice to have people who know what you're going through because they're in the same situation,” says John.

    Malkia adds, “It’s extremely helpful to be around people who will honestly share their stories. It's a place of confidentiality where you can laugh, cry, or just sit and listen. You can gather a lot of information from those who have already gone through this process, and every meeting gives me a boost of confidence and ideas for how to share my story.”

    Want to learn more about searching for a living donor online? Watch Malkia and John discuss their experiences using social media to find a donor.

    In addition, check out these resources:

    Want more information on living donation? Click below to learn about services provided at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

    Learn More

  • February 20, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    William Gao, MD, is the first to admit that his field—Otolaryngology—is a mouthful for many patients to pronounce. “Head and neck” may involve fewer syllables, but it shouldn’t diminish the critical importance this relatively concentrated region of the body has on our ability to function.

    "All five major senses rely on this area of the body, and the conditions that affect them have a major influence on patients’ quality of life,” Dr. Gao explains. “We often don’t realize how important they are until there’s a problem.”

    Having grown up outside of Philadelphia, Dr. Gao attended nearby Jefferson Medical College, then came to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital for a five-year residency in Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. After completing his fellowship in Laryngology at the University of Southern California (USC), Dr. Gao returned to D.C. in September 2019, to join the faculty at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center.

    “It was an honor to come back and work with those who played a pivotal role in my training,” he says. “The Hospital Center is vital to providing top-notch health care to many patients, and it is a privilege for me to serve them.”

    Areas of Expertise

    Dr. Gao’s subspecialty, laryngology, focuses on the throat’s three primary functions—voice production, providing an airway for breathing, and swallowing food and liquid. The challenge of restoring these functions has given rise to a variety of innovative treatment methods, including vocal cord injections, laser treatment of laryngeal lesions, and electromyography-guided Botox injections. Dr. Gao also performs surgery for voice restoration, laser surgery for resection of voicebox tumors, and reconstructive endoscopic/open airway surgery.

    In the coming year, Dr. Gao hopes to launch a study with his colleagues at USC, on using a novel silk-based microparticle filler material for vocal cord injections.

    “The materials used currently are only temporary,” he explains. “This material may offer a more permanent alternative, eliminating the need for repeat procedures. There are opportunities to use it for vocal cord paralysis and in helping address age-related vocal cord atrophy, which is a common problem, given the growing geriatric population.”

    Life Outside of Hospital

    Away from work, Dr. Gao and his wife, a gastroenterology fellow at Georgetown, enjoy hiking in the region’s parks, board game nights with friends, and exploring Washington’s ever-evolving restaurant scene.

  • February 18, 2020

    By Valeriani R. Bead, MD

    When an African American man or woman visits my cardiology office, I don’t just see another patient in my schedule. I see someone who may need my extra attention. That’s because African Americans have a uniquely high risk for heart disease, and there are several steps we can take to help prevent it or at least manage it if we start early.

    Why Do African Americans Have Higher Risks for Heart Disease?

    Heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans, but it hits African Americans particularly hard and often much earlier in life than the general population.

    Facts show that nearly one-half of African American adult men and women have some form of cardiovascular disease. That compares to one-third of white American adults. African Americans in general die earlier than other ethnic groups in this country, largely because of heart disease. Even children don’t escape the risks. Consider this: 14% of African American kids already have high blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart disease. That’s about 40% more black children with hypertension than white children.

    What’s going on here?

    For one thing, African Americans are more likely to develop health issues that often lead to heart disease. That includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. When these conditions aren’t addressed early enough or managed well, that increases the risk for heart disease even further. Unfortunately, and for various reasons, that scenario happens all too often within our African American community.

    Other factors are also to blame for the excessive heart disease burden in African Americans. Genes may play some role. Unique stresses in our environment may be another. But the most common factor is probably lifestyle. The good news is that lifestyle includes many daily habits and choices that you can change to help protect your heart health and help ensure you live a longer life without debilitating disease.

    Heart disease hits African Americans harder than the general population. Dr. Valeriani Bead explains why, and how to decrease your risk. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet

    5 Ways to Help Yourself and Your Children Live Heart Healthier

    You don’t need to start with anything dramatic to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. Some simple steps and just being more mindful about certain habits can have a powerful payoff in terms of protecting your heart and vessels. Here’s what I recommend:

    1. Don’t wait until you’re sick to make a doctor’s appointment.

    When I ask people what they think a doctor’s job is, they almost always say “taking care of sick people.” That’s only part of it! Start thinking of your doctor as your teacher. That’s our real job. If you haven’t had a check-up lately, find a primary doctor you like and make an appointment. We’re here to help you understand your personal risks for certain health issues and to find sensible ways to manage them. Most doctors aren’t just standing by with a prescription pad. We can recommend sensible ways to live healthier and to avoid or minimize problems, before you need a lot of medicines. So make an appointment, and let’s talk about you!

     2. Know your numbers.

    An important reason for getting routine check-ups—even when you’re feeling fine—is to get your numbers checked. These simple body measurements can tell you a lot about your risk factors for heart disease, so you can act early if anything starts to skew into “unhealthy” territory. Don’t settle for just knowing your numbers. Ask your doctor to explain yours and to recommend ways to keep them within a healthy range. Here are the numbers your doctor will routinely check:

    • Blood pressure — Many African Americans go for years without knowing they have high blood pressure. We call it a “silent” killer because you generally can’t “feel” it, even though it may be damaging your heart and vessels. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range—with healthy lifestyle steps and daily medicine if you need it—can significantly lower your risk for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
    • Body mass index, or BMI, is a number that shows if you’re at a healthy weight for your body type and height. Many adults commonly consider their weight “healthy” when in fact it’s too heavy. Your doctor can help you understand what’s healthy for you.
    • Cholesterol and triglyceride level — Determining these numbers involves a quick blood test to measure the levels of these fatty substances that raise your risk for heart disease. If your numbers are high, your doctor can suggest lifestyle changes and/or medicines that can move yours back into a healthy range that helps protect you from heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke.
    • Blood glucose level — This number, measured with a simple blood test, can determine whether you have, or you’re at risk for, diabetes—another serious risk factor for heart disease. If you find out early enough that your blood glucose number is too high, then you and your doctor can make an action plan to help prevent diabetes. That can help lower your risk for heart disease and spare you the challenges of managing this lifelong condition.

    3. Limit screen time.

    Let’s face it. Smartphones and computers play a big role in our everyday life today, and Americans are sitting more than ever because of them. Limiting your screen time, then, may just help to lower your risk for heart disease. Start by paying attention to how much time you and your children are actually spending in front of screens—playing video games, watching TV, surfing the Internet. Then, set sensible limits on those hours of the day when screen time is an option, not a work or other requirement. The American Heart Association recommends limiting screen time for kids ages 5 and up to 2 hours per day max. That might be a good rule of thumb for adults’ leisure time as well.

    4. Cut out snacks.

    Paying attention to choosing more healthy foods—including lots of fruit and vegetables—is a must for good heart health. But cutting out snacks is one of the top diet tips, I recommend. Say no to strictly snack-type foods that come in bags and boxes—like chips and cookies. These tend to be extremely high in salt, sugar, fat, and calories that can increase a number of risks for heart disease. Plan ahead for yourself and your kids by keeping healthy alternatives on hand for a quick bite when it’s really needed. Think about fruit, whole-grain crackers and cheese, yogurt, and other “real” foods. The same goes for sweetened beverages sipped throughout the day. Skip them and stick to a water bottle instead.

    5. Move around more.

    Getting more exercise into your life doesn’t have to involve a gym or weights. Start where you are. Walking is the easiest. If you can only walk from your living room to your kitchen, do it a few times every day, and then build up. If you can walk one flight of stairs or one lap around the block, start there and go further as it gets easier. Make movement fun—like taking kids to the playground or strolling with a friend. The key is to be consistent about it, so put active time in your calendar if it helps. Aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of moving-around activity most days of the week to start. If you can push yourself until you feel a little breathless but can still talk, you’ll reap even more heart-healthy benefits.

    Lower your risk.

    Talk with one of our specialists.

    Call 202-644-9526 or  Request an Appointment

  • February 14, 2020

    By MedStar Health

    A childhood interest in science made medicine a natural career choice for Ian C. Chang, MD. When it came time to choose a specialty, he found that cardiology offered not only avenues to do clinical care, procedures, and research, but also the opportunity to treat a virtually limitless population of patients. 

    “Everyone needs a strong cardiovascular system, after all,” Dr. Chang says. “And it’s a field that lets me help not only people who seek treatment, but also my family and friends.” 

    After receiving his medical degree from National Yang-Ming University in his native Taiwan, Dr. Chang came to the U.S. for residency at the University of Minnesota, and a fellowship at Mayo Clinic of Rochester. He credits his cardiology mentors for steering him to the subspecialty of imaging cardiology, with a special focus on caring for patients with all forms of cancer and hematologic conditions.  

    Taking a Team Approach to Patient Care

    Dr. Chang characterizes non-invasive technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography (CT), and echocardiography as “gateway tools” that he uses in collaboration with hematologists and oncologists to gather information and make decisions.  

    “We may be initiating a course of treatment, or making adjustments, particularly if the patient has other medical needs that need to be considered,” he says.  

    Dr. Chang came to MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center as an attending cardiologist, specialist in cardiac imaging, and cardio-oncology specialist late last year. Although he and his wife had to leave family behind, the opportunity to join a team of leaders in imaging cardiology and cardio-oncology was too good to pass up. 

    “This is an exciting time at the Hospital Center, as we’re at work building a new imaging platform that will vastly expand our diagnostic and treatment capabilities,” he says. “And my wife and I have family here as well, so it made our move much smoother.” 

    Outside the Hospital

    Although metropolitan Washington doesn’t offer the volume of snow for cross-country skiing and other winter sports that Dr. Chang and his wife enjoyed in the north country, the couple and their 11-month-old son are taking advantage of the area’s own signature outdoor attractions.  

    “We love Rock Creek Park and the C&O Canal, and of course the National Zoo,” he says. “We enjoy going anywhere we can relax, and have life be less complicated and stressful, at least for a little while.”