Heart patients need to take ownership of their own health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with about 1 in 3 American adults living with high blood pressure, and the Chicago area is no exception.

Erie Family Health Centers, a 62-year-old community health center with 13 locations in high-need areas across the Chicago area, recognizes the need to effectively address heart health.

One way Erie is doing this is with its Health-Ownership Model. Erie providers incorporate lifestyle education into their patients' visits, encouraging them to take personal ownership of their health, and take proactive steps to becoming healthier.

For patients living with heart disease, and even for those who are at risk, Erie provides free educational programs, such as cooking and nutrition classes, that help patients understand healthy eating on a budget.

Erie's Running Club encourages entire families to add regular exercise into their routine within a community environment.

When patients take ownership of their own health, they can also reduce health expenses by, for example, lowering blood pressure enough to no longer need medicine.

Making lifestyle changes can seem intimidating to those facing heart disease. However, small steps toward a healthier lifestyle can make a big difference in overall health.

With summer quickly coming to Chicago, Erie Family Health Centers recommends the following tips and "baby steps" anyone can take to become more heart healthy:

• Get in extra steps throughout the day: Parking in a further spot from the door or adding an extra five to 10 minutes when walking the dog can add exercise to a sedentary lifestyle or jumpstart endurance for future exercise routines.

• Add seasonal fruits and veggies to meals: Many fruits and vegetables are in season during summer, meaning you can get healthier options at bargain prices, and they are perfect to add to a menu when grilling for friends or family.

• Plan ahead on weekends: Weekend plans often revolve around food, such as attending a food festival or a work picnic. Plan ahead to eat healthier during the week to be able to indulge guilt-free at the social events later.

Erie Family Health Centers also wants people to recognize uncommon signs of heart disease and cardiovascular distress.

Know the following symptoms to save a life by avoiding a heart attack or identifying one before it becomes fatal:

• jaw pain

• left-side heaviness

• swelling of feet or ankles

• shortness of breath during everyday tasks.

To catch heart disease as quickly as possible, Erie recommends annual checkups with your primary care physician and that you report any symptoms or concerns to them as soon as possible.

• Dr. Amish Desai, M.D., is the clinical director of Care Management at Erie Family Health Centers. Dr. Miranda Hart, M.D., is the co-site medical director at Erie Foster Avenue Health Center.

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