Special to the Recorder
Hurricane season is underway, and while most people prepare their homes and families when a storm hits, they don’t always take steps to protect their hearts.
Not only can hurricanes and other weather emergencies result in a loss of food, water and medical care, but they can also lead to significant stress that can be fatal for those with heart disease. By managing your stress and taking a few extra precautions, you can stay heart-healthy during a weather emergency.
Hurricanes, tornadoes and other emergencies can cause acute stress that increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. In fact, a study from the American Heart Association found that after Hurricane Sandy, the hardest-hit counties in New Jersey experienced a 22 percent increase in fatal heart attacks. Acute stress can reduce control of your blood pressure, increase heart rate and cause more forceful heart muscle contractions, according to the American Psychological Association.
During an anxiety-provoking event such as a weather emergency, you can use several methods to help manage your stress. Practice breathing from your diaphragm, focus on relaxing your muscles and do moderate exercise. The ultimate way to relieve stress – and the best way to ensure your safety – is to evacuate if you know a storm is approaching.
Prepare healthy meals and medication
Every household should have a stock of healthy, non-perishable food items in case of a power outage, but it’s especially important to include diet-specific foods for family members with heart disease that meet their need for proteins, vitamins, fruits and vegetables. Ideal proteins during a storm include canned meats, chili, beans, nuts and all-natural protein powders. Energy bars, crackers, dried fruit, unsweetened applesauce and low-sodium canned vegetables are other good food sources. While you should have non-perishable food sources if the power goes out, you can still eat perishable foods in the freezer for up to 24 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to heart-healthy meals, make sure to refill any heart medications prior to a storm, stock up on any medical supplies you will need and stay hydrated.
Know the signs of a heart attack
Medical services may be more difficult for you to reach, and to reach you, during a storm. Being aware of the early warning signs of a heart attack can help you get assistance for yourself or a loved one in time. Though some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most begin with mild pain or discomfort, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Symptoms of a heart attack include: chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea and discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
If you believe you or a loved one might be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. It’s also helpful to know CPR in case anyone should ever experience a cardiac arrest in your presence, as this could be a lifesaving measure.
Although a major storm can be stressful, with the right preparations, knowledge and stress-management tools, you can ensure your heart outlasts any emergency.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating Atrial fibrillation, visit AfibJax.com.