Penn Heart and Vascular

Penn Heart and Vascular Update

Thursday, May 7, 2015

5 Scary Myths about Heart Failure

Heart failure: Two words no one wants to hear a doctor say.

The fact is that nearly 6 million people in the US have heart failure—and that number is only growing, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Yes, heart failure is a serious health issue—one that should not be taken lightly. But a diagnosis of heart failure is not necessarily a death sentence.

Here are some of the myths, and the truth, about heart failure:

  1. Myth: Heart Failure Means Your Heart Has Stopped Working.

    Yes, the word "failure" typically means that something is no longer working. But that's not the case with heart failure, the NHLBI explains. Heart failure develops as the heart's ability to pump weakens.

    A person can have heart failure on the right side of his heart, the left side, or both. During right-side heart failure, a person's heart cannot pump enough blood toward the lungs to receive oxygen. During left-side heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough of that oxygen-rich blood out to the rest of the body. Most people with heart failure have it on both sides of the heart, says the NHLBI.

    The important thing to remember is that the heart is still pumping, but at a weakened capacity.

  2. Myth: You Can't Do Anything To Prevent Heart Failure.

    Heart failure—and heart disease in general—has two different types of risk factors: those you cannot control, and those you can, says the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

    While you may not be able to change some factors—like your age, gender, or genes – you can reduce your risk of heart disease and heart failure in other ways.

  3. Myth: There's Nothing You Can Do To Get Better After Being Diagnosed With Heart Failure.

  4. Heart failure can be treated through a combination of medication, surgery, implanted devices, and lifestyle changes, says the NLM.

    Lifestyle changes that improve quality of life with heart failure are similar to those that reduce your risk in the first place:

    • Adopt healthy eating and drinking habits.
    • Exercise.
    • Stop smoking.
    • Manage your weight and cholesterol.
  5. Myth: You Can't Tell If Your Heart Failure Is Getting Worse Until It's Too Late.

  6. Warning signs appear before things get worse, so it's important to know your body and any telltale signs. Monitor your symptoms to identify potential problems before they become too serious, according to the NLM.

    Make note of any changes to your:

    • Blood pressure
    • Heart rate
    • Weight

    If you notice any abnormal changes, contact your physician.

  7. Myth: Heart Failure Is A Death Sentence.

  8. Because of advances in early diagnosis and treatment—as well as increased public awareness of symptoms–many people with heart disease are able to lead normal lives, says the Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA).

    A heart failure patient's outlook depends on a number of factors. Perhaps the most noticeable one is what the American Heart Association (AHA) calls functional capacity—that is, how a patient's body reacts to physical activity.

    According to the AHA, functional capacity is measured on a scale of 1 to 4, from mild to severe symptoms.

A physician at the Penn Medicine Heart Failure Program

can help you get the best treatment for your condition.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What You Need to Know About Aspirin

Image of Chileshe Nkonde-Price, MD, director of the Women's Cardiovascular Center at Penn MedicineDr. Chileshe Nkonde-Price, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center, weighs in on the latest American Heart Association recommendations for aspirin use.

Aspirin has been making the news lately, with controversy surrounding who should be taking the drug, and how often. With half of American adults aged 45-75 are taking aspirin regularly, it’s a good time to reevaluate whether or not you should take it daily.

Even though this commonly used blood-thinner comes in “baby” doses, aspirin is not a medication to be taken lightly. It can cause serious side effects such as bleeding and gastrointestinal issues, even for people without a complicated medical history.


In my practice, I follow the current American Heart Association aspirin recommendations: people at high risk for heart attack or who have had a cardiac event should take a daily aspirin, but only under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

The decision to start aspirin in a person that has never had a heart attack is more complex.

My approach starts with assessing a patient’s risk for cardiovascular events, cancer, and bleeding. Then, we consider the importance of preventing each of those possibilities. The final decision to start aspirin is a shared decision between patient and provider that balances risks, benefits, and an individual’s preference.

In summary, no matter your risk level, you should never start taking aspirin without consulting your healthcare provider.

If you are interested in doing something now, you can take our Cardiac Risk Profiler. This risk assessment tool contains questions based on The Framingham Heart Health Study and is widely used to gain an understanding of your risk. Just remember to follow up with your doctor or come see us at Penn.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Celebrating Heart Heroes in 2015

At Penn Heart and Vascular, we are inspired every day by the actions of our clinicians, patients and their caregivers. We want to pass that inspiration on.

By recognizing Heart Heroes, we are highlighting just some of the people that are making a heartfelt difference in the Philadelphia area.

So feel inspired, motivated and moved by these stories, and nominate your own Heart Hero today!

Kelly Anne Spratt, DO

Every day new patients come to Penn Medicine with the hope of finding an answer. As a cardiologist at Penn’s Valley Forge community location, Dr. Kelly Anne Spratt exemplifies the Penn ‘never settle’ attitude. During an appointment, she takes the time to listen and hear the concerns of her patients and their families; always taking that extra step to improve lives. She thinks outside of the box, ensuring that answers will be found. Dr. Spratt’s clinical expertise combined with unwavering patience and positivity makes her a true heart hero.

Debbie Gordon, MSS, LCSW

Having been a social worker at Penn Medicine for over 20 years, Deb Gordon has gotten to know her patients and their families quite well. Working with heart failure and transplant patients, as well as those needing mechanical circulatory support, her job begins the moment she meets a new patient and continues throughout their lives. One of Deb’s patients describes her as “full of both encouragement and support, as well as tireless when it comes to taking care of her patients. Deb aids patients and their families in coping with their diagnosis, connecting them with support systems and resources, and finding solutions to the daily challenges of heart failure life. This unflagging support for her patients makes Deb a true Heart Hero!

Stefany McTighe

Staffing an experienced cardiac unit is not something that is quick or easy, yet Stefany McTighe does the job with grace. Day in and day out, Stephany coordinates patient needs, making sure that the appropriate staff is available to care for each patient on all five units at Pennsylvania Hospital. As a charge nurse she is a true leader. When it comes to making sure that patients get the best possible care, Stefany gives it her all, making her a true heart hero.

Christina Constans

Christina Constans is the epitome of patient-centered care. To Christina, the individuals she treats are more than just patients. They are someone's mother, father, sister, brother, friend; and at all times, Christina shows that she is honored to take care of them. She exudes a compassion that is truly genuine.

Often staying late to help her co-workers in Pennsylvania Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab, Christina shows a dedication to her job that does not go unnoticed. Those that work with her, and those whose hearts have been in her care, certainly consider her nothing less than a Heart Hero.

Theresa Ryan

A beacon of light - this is how Terri Ryan is described by both patients and co-workers. For 30 years, Terri has been a nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital. Caring for cardio-thoracic surgery patients is what she does best. Only it isn’t just that. By reassuring them before and after they leave the hospital for surgery, and providing them with the education they need to heal, Terri embodies everything it means to be a great nurse!

Terri goes above and beyond. She’s always there, putting a smile on every face and and never settling for anything but the best!

David J. Callans, MD

Known for never giving up on his patients, Dr. David Callans is often described as being a Heart Hero. As an expert in the field of electrophysiology, many times patients with heart rhythm conditions and complex symptoms are referred to him. But Dr. Callans never wavers; he accepts and tackles every clinical challenge that comes his way.

Patients not only describe him as dedicated and compassionate, but go on to talk about how he goes above and beyond, offering a new found hope - character traits of a true Heart Hero.

Joseph E. Bavaria, MD

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Joseph Bavaria has a way of making patients feel at ease. It is a common feeling amongst his patients that the stress and anxiety of their diagnosis begins to recede moments into their appointment. Beginning with a thorough explanation of the treatment plan to addressing every question and concern to operating with confidence and experience, Dr. Bavaria is a true Heart Hero.

As one patient says, “Thank you Dr. Bavaria for making my days better. With just the comfort of having you as my surgeon, I'm healthier mentally, feeling safe having you on board with my health care. Your calm, direct, yet warm manner has made a difference in my life.”

Check back for more Heart Heroes throughout the month!

Make sure to read about our past Heart Heroes as well here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

7 Gifts to Warm a Loved One’s Heart

When it comes to gift giving, we all have people in our lives that have everything they need. But do they really?

Here's a different way of thinking about gifts: try giving them something that shows them you care and helps their heart.

Below are a few suggestions to get you started on your hunt for heart healthy gifts!

Fitness Tracker

Wearable fitness trackers can be a chic and healthy gift. Tracking steps, calories burned, or monitoring one's heart rate can start a friendly competition with oneself, and help motivate your loved one to go out and be active!

Bonus Tip: Check out some of the best fitness trackers of 2015 from CNet!


What do french fries, buffalo wings, and donuts all have in common? Well, other than being delicious? They are all deep fried -- brimming with fats and laden with calories. Enter the air fryer — a modern marvel of kitchen gadgetry that fries your favorite foods with just a fraction of the fat. Only a few brands exist today, but this health-conscious appliance is already rocketing the home kitchen into the future.

Blood Pressure Cuff

Not only a must have for heart disease patients, but for all exercise fanatics. A blood pressure cuff measures your systolic/diastolic blood pressures, heart rate and pulse so you can track your numbers and make sure they're within a normal range before, during and after workouts.

Bonus Tip: The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, upper-arm monitor. Wrist and finger monitors are not recommended because they show less reliable readings.

Tea Set

Studies have found that drinking green tea is associated with a decreased risk of stroke. This drink, filled with catechins, may lower systemic blood pressure and support healthy cholesterol levels - but make sure to have this conversation with your physician if you are already taking medications prescribed for these conditions. A cup of tea can also be very relaxing and ease some stress!

Bonus Tip: Pick a mug that evokes a happy memory as a part of your gift. We can all use reminders of happy times!

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is essential and water bottles are easy to carry, eco-friendly and most importantly, can help replenish fluids lost during your most intense workouts. With so many varieties that actually work while you're exercising, you'll never go thirsty!

Bonus Tip: Need somewhere to store your medications while exercising? We have the answer. Several brands now make a small accessory for the top of water bottles. An excellent find for patients with heart disorders.

Meditation Cushion

We're in the midst of a mindfulness revolution, at least according to Time magazine. While definitions vary, mindfulness is a meditation practice that emphasizes the awareness of moment-to-moment experience with openness and without judgment. Extensive clinical and neurological research has shown that the practice of mindfulness can improve mood and quality of life, enhance emotional regulation, and provide a number of physical health improvements - including cardiovascular benefits. While mindfulness can be done without a cushion, many practicing meditators find a dedicated cushion, sometimes called a zafu, aids their practice.

Bonus Tip: The Penn Program for Mindfulness provides an eight-week introductory course to mindfulness that has helped more than 10,000 people start their meditation journey.

Bluetooth earbuds

Paired with a streaming music gift card, this techy gift can be perfect for those who have made fitness one of their heart healthy goals. Without no wires in the way, your loved one can listen to tunes while walking, running or exercising – minus the tangled mess.

Bonus Tip: Create a workout playlist for each kind of activity - one to get the heart pumping and one to relax/cool down. Check out Be Well Philly's workout playlist, updated every Friday.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Short and Sweet Sugar Swaps

While always sweet and delicious, consuming large amounts of added sugar can be more than a dental issue. Excess amounts of refined sugar has been associated with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Sugars in their natural form, like those found in fruits and vegetables, are embraced by our body and are broken down appropriately. It is the addition of refined sugar in processed foods that has been clearly linked with health complications.

How to Reduce Sugar in Your Diet

So next time, instead of adding refined sugar to your food or drinks, use these simple sugar swaps:
  • Applesauce – For healthier baking, swap out the sugar for applesauce, which contains more nutrients, as well as fiber, and only 100 calories for every cup. Just replace the sugar with equal parts applesauce and you're well on your way to a healthier, sweet snack. Remember, for every cup of applesauce used, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.

  • Vanilla – Housed in every baking cabinet, vanilla extract can enhance the flavor without the refined sugar. Even though it can't be used as a 1:1 ratio, it still can reduce the amount of added sugar while keeping the same amount of flavor. A perfect, healthy twist for your favorite cookie! Try cutting a few tablespoons of sugar and using ½ teaspoon of vanilla instead.

  • Honey – Can you hear those bees buzzing? Honey may contain more calories than sugar, but it's sweetness packs a punch so less is used. Plus, honey is full of antioxidants. Try honey instead of sugar in your tea, or be adventurous and substitute honey for white sugar in baking. Use 3/4 cup honey for every one cup of sugar, but reduce other liquids in the recipe by ½ cup for every 1 cup of honey. Keep in mind, you should never give honey to babies under 12 months of age.

  • Maple Syrup – This natural sweetener is not just for pancakes and waffles. Use it in granola, cooking or baking! Pure maple syrup is high in vitamins, minerals and contains over 50 antioxidants. In baking, replace 1 cup of white sugar with ¾ cup of syrup and reduce the other liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. Since syrup tends to caramelize earlier than batter or dough, decrease the baking temperature by 25 degrees.

  • Dates, Cranberries, Raisins – These poppable snacks may be small, but they're plentiful in sweetness (and antioxidants!). Here are just a few creative ways to use them: Grab a bunch of dates for your next baking experiment. Substitute two–thirds cup for one cup of regular sugar. With a low glycemic index (effect on blood sugar) and subtle sweetness, it's perfect for homemade granola bars. Cranberries are tart so skip the cup of sugar and add some to a batch of muffins or scones. Raisins are full of fiber and add flavor to any baked good; just blend a cup in a food processor.
There is a lot of buzz in the science community about refined sugar. To stay up to date on the latest news, visit

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Getting Your Omega-3's: Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil

There have been extensive studies on the heart health benefits of fish oils.

While many heart healthy oils exist on the market, one question that periodically pops up is whether to choose fish oil - made from fatty fish like salmon - or krill oil, which is made from shrimp-like crustaceans.

To better understand which one really works, we decided to ask Fran Burke, MS, RD, Clinical Dietitian of the Preventive Cardiovascular Program, for her thoughts.

At a basic level, both oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, also known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been shown to reduce heart disease. However, there is one large difference between the two: there is no scientific proof that shows krill oil prevents or reduces the risk of cardiovascular events, like heart attack and stroke.

On the other hand, there have been large studies done with fish oils, which suggest that consuming fish oils provide positive cardiovascular outcomes. One study, the GISSI Prevention Study, showed a 15% reduction in non-fatal heart attacks and strokes, and a 45% reduction in sudden death. The patients who took part in the study consumed 850 mg of EPA and DHA per day and were compared to a control group that didn’t receive an added supplement over a period of 3.5 years.

For this reason, the Preventive Cardiology team at Penn Medicine advises fish oil over krill oil in patients with heart disease or hypertriglyceridemia.

Questions about heart disease and nutrition? The Penn Medicine Preventive Cardiovascular Program has trained experts who focus solely on cardiovascular nutrition, the prevention of heart attack and strokes.

If you or a loved one are at risk for heart disease, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to Convince Your Loved One to Get Their Heart Checked Out

Is your loved one potentially at risk for a heart condition? Are you more concerned than they appear to be? We all worry about our friends and family. Often times, those that we love don't understand how important their health is to those around them. Sometimes it is difficult to help them acknowledge a potential problem, but it's still important to show them you care.

Here are five things that can help persuade your loved one to visit a cardiologist.

  1. It's not unusual to see a cardiologist if you have not been diagnosed with a heart condition. 
  2. Heart disease can be silent. It is important to know your risk so you can help prevent heart disease. By taking a quick Cardiac Risk Assessment, you can get an idea for how old your or a loved one's heart is.

  3. 70% of heart attacks are preventable by taking steps at home. 
  4. There are many lifestyle changes that your loved one can make to prevent heart attacks. Seeing a cardiologist does not always mean control of your health is given away.

  5. Time is of the essence - it is important to get checked early if you are at risk.
  6. Age is an important factor in developing the risk of heart disease. The earlier you start taking an active role in your heart health, the more treatment options you have when it comes to heart disease.

  7. One appointment can make all the difference.
  8. Let your loved one know that going to one appointment is not a waste. A cardiologist can gather thoughts from just a detailed history. Additionally there are routine parts of an exam, such as blood pressure readings, listening to the heart and blood work, that will alert them of any issues.

  9. Having the conversation matters.
  10. Talk to them. This sounds like a no brainer, but it's important. Be direct. Share your concerns, and ask them to see a cardiologist. Don't assume that because of their personality or their past history that they won't be open-minded.

Seeking out care from a cardiologist is important for those who may be at risk. If you have concerns or your loved one falls into this category, give these tips a shot. It can't hurt and will let them know just how much you care.