Paulus Urges Community to Get Heart Smart

By Michael Waddell

Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis capped off its month-long celebration of American Heart Month by hosting a seminar by Dr. Basil Paulus titled “Getting Heart Smart … What You Need to Know.”

During February, the hospital invited the community to various activities, including public seminars, a healthy cooking demonstration and Zumba exercise sessions, to educate and inform citizens on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of their heart.

“This is our finale of a series of three seminars and other activities that highlight February as Healthy Heart Month,” said Michelle Britton, Saint Francis director of cardiovascular services.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, the hospital provided a healthy lunch to a group of more than 60 attendees as Paulus, who works with Stern Cardiovascular Group and is chairman of Saint Francis’ cardiology division, spoke about cardiac disease, risk factors, symptoms and treatment options.

“More than 81 million people are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and approximately one-third of Americans are affected by it, and it is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.,” said Paulus, who performs more than 1,000 heart surgeries each year.

Coronary disease, hypertension and stroke are the most common forms of the disease.

Controllable risks include smoking, stress, physical activity, being seriously overweight, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and unhealthy blood cholesterol levels.

“If you look at diabetes rates and heart disease rates in the U.S. ... you can almost put a bulls-eye at Memphis.”

–Dr. Basil Paulus
Chairman, Saint Francis Hospital’s cardiovascular division

“Smoking is probably the single worst thing you can do for yourself. More than anything else, if you can get away from smoking it would be the best thing you can do to decrease your risk of having cardiovascular disease or a stroke,” Paulus said.

High stress can also affect the heart, and “broken heart disease” or takotsubo cardiomyopathy

is recognized as resulting from very stressful situations that can weaken the heart muscle, which pumps blood through 60,000 miles in the human body.

Memphis has one of the worst percentage ratios of diabetes and obesity in the country, which translates into some of the highest risks for heart disease.

“If you look at diabetes rates and heart disease rates in the U.S. in northern Mississippi, Memphis, Arkansas and Kentucky, you can almost put a bulls-eye at Memphis and go around to see the highest rates of heart disease in the entire country,” said Paulus, who grew up in Memphis.

“As a nation and as a society, we exercise less, sit on our butts more and eat more than we ever have,” he said. “If you weigh 450 pounds, you are not doing good to your body. Our bodies were not designed for that.”

Paulus puts some of the blame on today’s “super-sized” culture, with meal portion sizes much larger than in decades past.

He emphasized daily vigorous exercise or walking, along with proper diet, as keys to keeping risk factors to a minimum.

“It’s a wonderful thing when people lose weight. It improves your cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and it has good effects on sleep apnea,” Paulus said.

Paulus confirmed that a glass of red wine every few days can be good for your heart’s health.

He thinks a blood pressure should be no higher than 130 over 75.

For someone that thinks they are having a heart attack, immediately taking an aspirin can be helpful. Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain, heaviness, tightness, pressure aching, burning, numbness or fullness, as well as heart palpitations, nausea, extreme weakness, excessive sweating or shortness of breath. Strangely, women do not always have chest pain, which is more typically seen in men.

A question-and-answer session followed Paulus’ talk. One 96-year-old man joked that he had given up smoking, drinking and women in an effort to reach 100 years old, and he wondered if Paulus had any suggestions for him.

“Maybe go back to the women,” Paulus quipped. “But the biggest thing I can tell you is: eat healthy and exercise.”

Paulus recommended that anyone ever diagnosed with cardiovascular disease should see a heart specialist at least once per year.

He is also working currently with local EMS services to better recognize heart disease-related symptoms and more quickly get patients to the appropriate facilities.

Other heart-related activities at Saint Francis during February included a healthy cooking demonstration and a line dancing session. Each Monday of the month also featured Zumba workout sessions.

The next public seminar at Saint Francis will address the new MAKOplasty partial knee resurfacing treatment on Thursday, March 7. Late last year the hospital became the first in Memphis to adopt the new technology.