Penn Heart and Vascular

Penn Heart and Vascular Update

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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Protecting Your Heart: What is a Healthy Cholesterol Level for You?

There's no question about it, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is essential for heart health. Out of control cholesterol is one of the most significant risk factors for heart attack, heart disease and stroke.
According to the National Institutes of Health, age is a major risk factor for high cholesterol. High blood cholesterol does not cause symptoms. Thus, it is essential for both men and women to closely monitor both their cholesterol levels to prevent themselves from developing heart problems at an early age.

National Guidelines for Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL), and the body houses two types of cholesterol – "good" cholesterol (HDL) and "bad" cholesterol (LDL). HDL helps protect your heart by removing the LDL from your blood, thus preventing LDL buildup in arteries. HDL levels above 60 mg/dL are indicators of a healthy heart and are associated with a lower risk for heart disease.

What is a Dangerous Cholesterol Level?

Too much cholesterol – good or bad – can be harmful to the heart. High blood cholesterol can lead to "hardening of the arteries" and over time cause blood flow to and from the heart to slow down or become blocked. A person is considered at high risk for developing heart disease if their total cholesterol level is higher than 240 mg/dL, LDL levels are higher than 160 mg/dL (190 mg/dL is even higher risk), and if the HDL level is below 40 mg/dL.

When is it time to see a doctor?

If your cholesterol level is dangerously high, you may be putting yourself at greater risk for developing heart disease and having a stroke. These risks are escalated for certain individuals based on other factors, such as diet and family history, so it is important for one to know how these factors affect your risk of developing heart disease.
If you or someone you know has high cholesterol levels, or has a family history of heart disease, encourage them to see a doctor to help protect their heart and to start making positive changes towards a healthier lifestyle.

Healthy Ways to Lower Cholesterol

Achieving healthy cholesterol levels may seem tricky, but it is not impossible. The best way to reach these cholesterol goals is to make healthy lifestyle changes such as:
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eliminating fatty foods
  • Becoming active and exercising daily (even for just 30 minutes)
If you're worried about your heart disease or risk factors like high cholesterol, schedule an appointment with a cardiologist today.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Celebrating our Heart Month Heart Heroes

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 share your own Heart Hero today!

Mary Ellen Urbanowicz

It was supposed to be an exciting day. At 13 weeks pregnant, Erin Durborow, a phys-ed teacher, was planning to tell her colleagues that she was expecting her first child. But during fourth period gym class, she collapsed. Erin had gone into sudden cardiac arrest.

Within seconds, the woman that would become her Heart Hero, Mary Ellen Urbanowicz, ran into the room. About to head out to lunch, Mary Ellen was stopped in the hall by a co-worker and told that Erin had suddenly collapsed while teaching. Without a second thought Mary Ellen began performing Hands-Only CPR and utilizing the school’s Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) until paramedics arrived. It was with the CPR and AED that Mary Ellen saved Erin’s life. What Mary Ellen didn’t know at the time was that she was also saving the life of Erin’s unborn child. Two lives were saved that day by a woman whose quick thinking and fast actions were second nature. Thank you Mary Ellen Urbanowicz.

Chris D'Elia

Looking back on the last decade of his life, Chris D’Elia sure can say he has come a long way. Ten years ago, he was given only a few years to live, and in hearing those words, Chris decided it was time to fight. He sought the opinion of Penn heart failure specialist Dr. Mariell Jessup, and under her care and with her encouragement began a journey to a healthier life. Chris underwent weight loss surgery in 2014 and has since lost over 160 pounds. His lifestyle has changed, his health has improved and he’s finally breathing easier again.

These days, Chris is walking around the city in preparation for the Philadelphia LOVE run in the spring. He’s constantly smiling and encouraging others to find the same courage that saved his own life. Read more about Chris D’Elia here.

Lynette Gearhart

"Yes!" Was what Lynette said when her now-husband Bob proposed to her. She didn’t know, however, that she was also committing to caring for Bob during his sickest days. You see, just 5 months before their wedding Bob was told that a heart transplant was the only treatment for his cardiomyopathy.

Just over a year after being placed on the waiting list, Bob received his gift of life - with his wife Lynette by his side. With an unwavering spirit, she sat at his bedside for over 300 hours during a long recovery. Today, Lynette and Bob enjoy the normalcies of a healthy life. They sometimes sit and think about what could have been, but never for long. They have too much joy in their life now. Bob will tell you that Lynette stole his first heart but resides in his second, as his Heart Hero.

Tiffany Boller

Born with a congenital heart defect, Tiffany spent her early years in and out of the hospital. When she was just four years old she underwent open heart surgery. As Tiffany grew older, she began seeing Yuli Kim, MD, at the Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center (PACHC), a joint program between Penn Medicine and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Center provides continuity of care when children born with congential heart defects transition from childhood to adulthood.

Tiffany’s team determined that she needed both a heart and liver transplant. For over three years she waited; her faith, spirit and tenacity carrying her through. In Tiffany’s eyes, she always believed that there was someone that had it harder and that her transplant would come when the time was right. On September 17, 2014, Tiffany received her new heart and liver, and she hasn’t looked back since. Today, she shares her time, experience and comfort with others, including pediatric patients born with congenital heart defects.

Patti Goodman

For over a year as her husband Bob battled a rare and difficult to treat cardiac condition, Patti Goodman stood by his side. But she didn't just stand, she became his advocate and the one that would make him smile. In health, and more importantly in absolute sickness, she cared for Bob as he waited and received his new lease on life – a heart transplant.
When Bob nominated Patti as his Heart Hero, he was reminded of the words to a popular Carole King song, "You've Got a Friend". 

When you're down in troubles
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there. 

"The difference between Carole King's song and Patti is that Patti was always there, she always has been. She's an amazing, beautiful, intelligent, caring woman and a terrific mom to our daughter Stephanie. I love and admire her - she is my Heart Hero." - Bob Goodman

Check back for more Heart Heroes throughout the month! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Simple Food Swaps for a Healthier Party

Wings, chili, nachos, dips - all the makings for a great party. But not the healthiest choices when it comes to eating. With the big game fast approaching, ideas for party foods are flying around the Web. Take the opportunity to evaluate some of your favorite snacks and decide on ways to increase their health factor.

Follow these simple food swaps and partytime won't feel so unhealthy.

Dips - No need to pass on creamy dips for the party. Swap out the sour cream for greek yogurt for less fat and more protein. Or go another route all together and serve hummus or guacamole instead. Guacamole is made from avocados which contain monounsaturated heart healthy fats. Hummus is made primarily from nutrient rich and fiber filled chick peas. Both options are a better choice!

Try this Garlicky Greek Yogurt Dip from the American Heart Association. 

Chili - If you're serving this hearty meal there are a few things you can do to increase the nutrients and make it a bit more heart healthy. Swap out the ground beef for turkey, double the beans and add more tomatoes and peppers for extra nutrition.

Take a look at these 32 top rated chilis from Cooking Light for some inspiration. 

Buffalo Wings - This classic party food is also one of the unhealthiest around. Satisfying the craving while making it healthier is possible. Try a homemade version instead. If marinated in a hot sauce prior to cooking, oven wings can yield a flavor that meets or beats your favorite restaurant without all of the butter, salt, and oil!

Check out Alton Brown's taste test and see for yourself. 

French Fries - Fries can be a great finger food that everyone enjoys but can also come packed in sodium, in a drive-thru. Increase the flavor and the health factor by making sweet potato oven fries and go light on the salt; try sea salt instead. Not only do sweet potatoes put a twist on the classic fry, they're more nutritious to boot and the larger sea salt flakes mean you'll need less to add flavor.

Check out for a highly rated, easy Sweet Potato Fry Recipe

Nachos - A classic appetizer, nachos can easily be converted into a vehicle for nutrients and veggies. Decrease the sodium and fat by baking your own tortilla chips using corn tortillas, cut into triangles. Then add plenty of protein-rich pinto beans and load up on fresh vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, onions and lettuce. Go light on the cheese and sour cream and use a 2% variety instead of full fat.

Chips - Swap out chips for popcorn - all the flavor with much less fat! Air popcorn with a dash of butter, spices like cumin, paprika, and chili powder, and sprinkled with sharp cheddar will be sure to satisfy your craving.

Try this recipe for Game Day Spicy Popcorn

Pizza - Go easy on, or even eliminate, the salty meats. Not only are these toppings loaded with salt, they are usually chock full of saturated fat, a double-whammy for your heart. Instead of the meat, try adding extra veggies for more flavor and less calories.

There is no need to stay home from the party this year. These heart healthy ideas give you an even better reason to go - show off your cooking AND feel good about it at the same time!