October 1, 2011

Free Cholesterol Test, Blood Pressure Check and Diabetes Screening

Posted in heart disease, Heart Disease in the News, Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:32 am by keepyourhearthealthy

Kroger logo

Image via Wikipedia

In this tough economy Kroger hopes to attract more customers by offering Free Health Screenings at participating pharmacies.  Heart disease patients know the importance of annual cholesterol checks but they can get quite costly for those without health insurance.  This new Health Screening option can provide a little relief in the expense of maintaining a healthy heart.

Kroger grocery stores throughout the U.S. are advertising these free Health Screenings which include:

  • Cholesterol Check (reportedly includes Total Cholesterol, LDL, Triglycerides and HDL)
  • Blood Pressure Check
  • Diabetes Screening
  • Body Mass Index

A licensed pharmacist performs the tests and discusses the results with you.  Most likely you will be given a copy of your test results so that you can bring them to your doctor for review.  Heart disease patients experiencing financial stress can use this free screening as their annual cholesterol test.  As long as you bring the results to your doctor and the numbers are at “heart disease goal,” there should be no need to obtain a second test.  If there are changes made to your cholesterol medication, a second test will need to be done to verify the medicine is working.

People who want to take advantage of this opportunity need to make an appointment by calling the national Kroger number 1-877-444-9689.  It is important to see a cardiologist at least once a year if you have heart disease so please do not use this as a substitute for your yearly heart check-up.  Find more great tips about cutting costs and maintaining a healthy heart in the book What To Do When You Have Heart Disease.

April 27, 2011

Pradaxa Now Covered by Medicare Part D!!

Posted in Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:25 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...

Image via Wikipedia

The new Coumadin alternative, Pradaxa, has recently become available on the Medicare Part D formulary.  Medicare recipients finally have an affordable option to Coumadin.

The first Coumadin alternative for atrial fibrillation became available late last year and Medicare patients have been anxiously waiting for it’s inclusion in the Part D formulary ever since.  With a hefty out-of-pocket cost at $250 a month, Pradaxa was much too expensive for most of the retired community.

Even though Pradaxa prevents more strokes than Coumadin, has no interactions with food (not even spinach) and requires NO monitoring (seriously, no more fingerstick checks!), many seniors could not rationalize paying $250 a month compared to Coumadin or warfarin which can cost as little as $4 per month.  Now, 6 months after Pradaxa was approved by the FDA, Medicare Part D has multiple plans which will cover the cost of this expensive new drug.  By searching the website www.medicare.gov, patients will be able to find Part D coverage and compare prices for individual plans.  The monthly drug cost is still fairly expensive (from $30 to $50 a month) but this is still significantly less than out-of-pocket cost.

Patients who plan to switch to Pradaxa should confirm with their Part D provider that the drug is covered before trying to get the prescription filled.  Here are some important tips to help make the switch:

  • Your INR needs to be 2 or less before you can start Pradaxa
  • You must take Pradaxa twice a day!
  • You CAN take Pradaxa while also taking Plavix but only if your cardiologist feels it is safe in your situation
  • Pradaxa starts working within 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Pradaxa is generally no longer effective if you miss 2 doses
  • You cannot take Pradaxa if you are also taking Rifampin
  • Pradaxa is not currently indicated for people with mechanical heart valves (although this may be coming within the next few years)
  • The pills expire within 30 days of opening the bottle
  • The most common side effect is heartburn (GI upset)

March 17, 2011

Stents or Bypass? New Study Says They Are Equal One Year Later

Posted in Heart Disease in the News, Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links, New Heart Studies, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:34 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

Three coronary artery bypass grafts, a LIMA to...

Image via Wikipedia

WebMD took a closer look at a new study comparing the benefits of stenting vs. bypass.

Well-informed patients with heart disease will certainly find this new WebMD article interesting.  Patients who undergo Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) frequently ask the question, “Why did I have to get bypass instead of stents?”  Alternately, people with stents frequently wonder how they dodged the bullet by avoiding bypass.  Many more people may be dodging the bullet in the future thanks to this new study and the continual improvement in stenting procedures.

Several years ago, the decision for bypass was made whenever someone had more than 3 blocked arteries OR a significant blockage in the heart’s main artery (called the left main).  In the study, a group of 1800 patients who traditionally might have all gone on to bypass surgery were split into 2 groups: approximately half went ahead with bypass while the other half underwent stenting instead.  The results showed the 2 groups felt similar improvement after 1 year. In addition, the rate of heart attacks or death were about the same for both groups after one year.

There were some differences noted though when you look closely. People who got stents felt better much quicker and had a faster recovery than those who had bypass.  On the other hand, people with stents were more likely to need another stenting procedure within the first year.  Also, people who had daily or weekly chest pain prior to their procedure felt more relief of their chest pain with bypass surgery by 6 months out.

While this study may lead to more stents and fewer open heart surgeries, it won’t be making bypass extinct anytime soon.  Many patients dread the idea of bypass surgery but if you have 3 or more blocked arteries AND you get chest pain at least once a week, bypass will still be highly recommended.

Read more about the study at WebMD’s article which is listed below:

March 3, 2011

How to Find Out if You Are Eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or Other Healthcare Programs

Posted in Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 1:37 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

A typical examination room in a doctor's office.

Image via Wikipedia

Healthcare is an expensive yet necessary part of life.  When times are tough, who do you turn to for help?

After getting bills from the doctor, hospital and testing centers you may be left wondering how you can possibly pay for it all.  Whether you had a simple doctor visit for the flu or if you were admitted to the hospital for a heart attack, you’ll probably get lightheaded when you see the bill.  Once you’re over the initial shock, then you need to work out a plan of action.  If you’re lucky enough to have a steady income, the first step is to call the doctor’s office, hospital or testing center who sent you the bill.  Most places will readily offer a payment plan with no interest and very low payments.

If you are currently unemployed or simply unable to pay for your medical bills, you may be eligible for government-funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare. The following website link offers an “Eligibility Wizard” quiz which will help you determine if you qualify for these types of programs:


February 9, 2011

Important New Information For Pradaxa Patients

Posted in Heart Disease in the News, Heart disease tips tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:04 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

photo from Pradaxa press release

Patients who receive their Pradaxa in a bottle are under a new advisement this week.

Many heart-savvy people have heard about a unique new drug called Pradaxa.  This ground-breaking drug burst into the pharmaceutical market in record time after gaining FDA approval late last year.  Pradaxa is famously known for being unique given that it is the ONLY alternative to Coumadin (warfarin) in terms of preventing strokes for the atrial fibrillation population.

Undoubtedly, thousands of patients have already made the switch from Coumadin to Pradaxa.  What many of these patients may not realize though is that Pradaxa is unique in another important way.  Pradaxa pills sold in a bottle are considered “expired” after only 30 days. The capsules are easily effected by humidity so the manufacturer recommends using all the medication within 30 days of opening the bottle.

A 30-day expiry is very unusual given that the standard expiry for most medications is 1 year.  Some pharmacists have returned their bottles to the manufacturer and requested blister packs instead.  Blister packs are sold in Europe and keep each pill individually wrapped, thus safe from the humidity.

In case you are a new Pradaxa user, it is important that you wait until the last minute to open the bottle.  You should also avoid having more than one bottle open at a time.  If you tend to store your pills in 2 different locations (ie. one at work and one at home), you’ll need a different routine for Pradaxa. The Pradaxa bottle has a special lid which keeps the drug stable so you should avoid putting the capsules in a different bottle. The safest place for the pills is inside the manufacturer’s bottle and the pills still expire within 30 days of opening.

New USDA Dietary Guidelines Criticized by the American Heart Association

Posted in Heart Disease in the News, Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links tagged , , , , , , at 11:13 am by keepyourhearthealthy

image shared from heart.org article


By law the US dietary guidelines have to be reviewed and updated every 5 years.  The newest guidelines came out last week with the intent of targeting an obese and hypertensive population.

The USDA guidelines are famous for their food pyramid but they also publish an updated report every 5 years.  This year they advised most Americans to cut the salt out of their diet.  Specifically they recommend reducing sodium intake to less than 2300mg per day OR 1500mg per day if you are, “51 and older,” “African American” or if you “have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.”  The guidelines go on to state that “the 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.”

If you know your dietary numbers, 1500mg of sodium per day is a tough number to stay under.  One typical fast food meal has more than 1500mg of sodium and most restaurant meals are well beyond the sodium limit as well.  The easiest way to stay under 1500mg of sodium in one day is to prepare your food at home and never use the salt shaker.

The American lifestyle makes this sodium goal a daunting task.  Yet the American Heart Association is holding the population to a higher standard and has outright criticized the Guidelines for not being strict enough.  They recommend all Americans should eat less than 1500mg of sodium per day…not just a select population.  Why?  According to the American Heart Association website, “High-sodium diets are linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.”  For those who want to learn more about sodium, the AHA website has a very simple, yet detailed, page dedicated to this diet obstacle: Sodium (Salt or Sodium Chloride).

January 13, 2011

The New Coumadin Alternative…What Do Patients Think About It?

Posted in Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:47 am by keepyourhearthealthy

image by Idea go

Pradaxa is certainly ideal when you look at how it compares to Coumadin on paper.

Pradaxa is a breakthrough Coumadin alternative that prevents more strokes than Coumadin, does not require fingerstick monitoring and has almost no major interactions with food or other drugs. It sounds like a dream come true for atrial fibrillation patients everywhere who despise Coumadin!

Now that Pradaxa is readily available to patients, what do they think? Is it the amazing new drug that many have expected it to be?  Some say “yes” and some say “no.”  One Pradaxa user posted their experience with the drug on a Pacemaker Club website online and stated they “love the convenience.” Others on the same website complained that it did not work out for them.

The biggest obstacles for many are just what Pradaxa’s manufacturer expected: price and heartburn.  First, many people have to get over the sticker-shock of paying $40 to $250 per month.  Then there’s the common side effect of heartburn.  20% of patients discontinue Pradaxa because it upsets their stomach.

One patient I spoke to stopped it because the heartburn and nausea were intolerable after a few days of switching to Pradaxa.  She eventually switched back to Coumadin and resumed her routine INR checks.  In my opinion she was more likely to get heartburn on the Pradaxa because she also suffers from a large hiatal hernia (a condition where part of the stomach is squeezed up through the diaphragm) which causes problems with acid reflux.  Pradaxa’s manufacturer has already launched a defensive campaign in order to help patients work through problems related to the drug.  Their website www.pradaxa.com offers a support program which includes a hotline and a savings card.  I personally registered for the support program over 2 weeks ago and have yet to receive a response.  Maybe they have a few kinks to work out?

Related Posts

January 2, 2011

Is Your Defibrillator Beeping?

Posted in Heart disease tips, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 8:44 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

photo by Jeroen van Oostrom

At first you may not realize that the beep is coming from inside your body but eventually you find that the metal box inside your chest is making a strange sound.

Patients who undergo implantation of a device such as a defibrillator may hear a beeping from their device at some point.  It may seem harmless in the beginning but soon enough panic can set in.  You start to wonder if the lifesaving box is broken and immediately look for your cardiologist’s office number.  You might even consider going to the Emergency Room if it’s late at night.

Laurie Racenet, an electrophysiology nurse practitioner and device expert, explains all you need to know in a situation like this:

“As a Nurse Practitioner in a Device Clinic, I hear all kinds of questions from patients about their devices.  One of the more common questions is: ‘Why is my device beeping?’

Devices beep for a number of reasons.   Currently Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators (ICDs) are the only device that will beep.  There are no pacemakers currently on the market that will beep for any reason. [Pacemaker and defibrillator combinations will also beep as long as it has a defibrillator component in the device.]

The most frequent cause of beeping is that the device is nearing the end of the battery. Depending on the device manufacturer, the device may have anywhere from 2 – 6 months of battery left when the beeping first sounds.  Most devices are designed to only beep for a short time each day; however, the sound can be annoying for patients who are sensitive to noise.  Sometimes the beep can be so soft that the patient doesn’t hear it at all.  This is particularly true for folks with hearing impairment.   It is not uncommon for a family member or friend to be the first to hear the beeping.  One manufacturer has tried to address this issue by making the device vibrate in the chest when the battery is getting low.

Another cause for the beeping is that there is a problem with one of the leads, or an internal problem with the device.   Modern devices are designed to do internal testing at various intervals.  If this internal testing shows some type of problem with a lead or some other problem, the device will beep to alert the patient that there may be a problem.  It is important to understand that the internal testing is not perfect and the device may beep when there is no problem.  It is designed to err on the side of safety and notify the patient if it thinks something is wrong.

Some devices may be programmed to beep when the patient has received therapy from the device. Since more and more devices are being set up to deliver painless therapy for abnormal heart rhythms, many people do not even know when they have received therapy from the device.  The device can be set up to beep if multiple therapies are delivered.

So what does all of this mean to the person who hears the device beeping?

  • Whenever beeping is heard, call your device clinic.   If you are being monitored by one of the many remote follow-up devices, you will be able to download the information from home for the device clinic to evaluate.  One of the best parts of the newest remote monitoring systems is that the device will send an alert to the clinic for any circumstance that would cause it to beep, thus adding an extra measure of safety to device monitoring.  Otherwise, the device clinic will have you come in and they will download the information in the clinic.
  • If you know your device is getting low on battery, you can usually wait and call during regular business hours, but it is never wrong to call and talk to whoever is on-call for the device clinic if you have any concerns about the device beeping.  Most of us would rather have a patient call so that we can assess the situation, rather than find out later that there was a problem.
  • If you have a newer device and have no reason to suspect that your battery is getting low, you should call the on call person for the device clinic whenever you hear a beeping.  During regular clinic hours, you can call the clinic directly.
  • If you have a lead that is known to be high risk for problems, call immediately whenever you hear a beep.  You may be asked to call 911 and go to the Emergency Room.  Your device clinic can let you know if you have one of these high risk leads.

To determine if you can hear the beep, ask your device clinic to demonstrate these tones to you at your next clinic visit.  Ask how your device is set up and what your device can or will beep for.  Some devices have different tones for different issues. Ask to have all the tones that are on your device demonstrated.  In addition, ask your clinic who you should contact when your device beeps.  Make sure you know what number to call after regular business hours to reach someone if you have concerns.

Having a device can be stressful for most people.  I hope this has helped to answer some questions.”

Fried Fish Shown To Increase Strokes In The South

Posted in Heart disease tips, New Heart Studies tagged , , , , , , at 1:31 am by keepyourhearthealthy

Eating fish is healthy for your body, right?  Think again. 

A new study is showing that people in the southern United States who consumed more fish weekly were actually more likely to have a stroke.  How could that be possible given that all the major health organizations (such as the American Heart Association) have recommended at least 2 servings of fish per week in order to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke?  Most people have overlooked the fine print though.  Southerners who ate more fish were found to be eating the wrong kind of fish altogether!  They tended to eat fried fish instead of the healthy baked or grilled omega-3 filled fish.  Frying fish removes it of it’s healthy nutrients and adds unhealthy fat from the frying oil.

In order to eat a healthy diet, fish is highly recommended for the fact that it contains omega-3 fatty acids.  This is pretty much the BIGGEST reason fish is considered healthy.  See this previous article about why Omega-3’s are important and what foods have them.  Some types of fish contain a lot of omega-3’s while others have very little.    Salmon, tuna, halibut and anchovy are examples of fish that have the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids. 

While grilled salmon may be offered at places like Long John Silver’s and Captain D’s, it is not the most popular item on the menu.  Their specialty is fried white fish which is high calorie and very high in the bad fats.  One piece of battered white fish at Long John Silver’s has 16 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat and 4.5 grams of the really bad for you trans fats.  What tiny amount of omega-3’s are left over after the frying process cannot possibly cancel out the amount of bad fats found in the fried white fish.  So think twice before you feel good about eating a piece of fish for dinner.  It has to be a healthy piece of fish like grilled salmon or tuna in order to get the desired health benefits.  Check out this super-easy recipe for salmon if you’re looking for a healthy meal.

December 16, 2010

Heart Disease Guide Website Gets New Look

Posted in Heart disease tips, Helpful Heart Links tagged , , , , , , , at 6:32 pm by keepyourhearthealthy

What To Do When You Have Heart Disease has given patients advice and peace of mind in their hands whenever they needed it most.  Now the website has an attractive new look that makes it easier to find everything you need.

Learning to live with heart disease is a challenge for anyone.  People look for all kinds of things to improve their heart health and get back to feeling “normal” again.  A book like What To Do When You Have Heart Disease provides support that can be instrumental in heart disease recovery.  The website can also help to get you started in the right direction.  Check out the website’s new look at www.theheartdiseaseguide.com and discover how the book and the webpage can help you on your journey to a healthier heart!

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