Three Heart-Healthy Makeovers
Can you really improve your heart health and reduce your risk for cardiac disease?
A Cardiac Nurse Nurtures Her Own Heart Health
Carolyn Welsh knows heart disease. In fact, she lives heart disease day in
and day out as a cardiac nurse supervisor at St. Vincent Heart Center of
Indiana in Indianapolis. Treating thousands of people who have been affected by
heart disease over four decades, it never occurred to her that she herself was
"This all happened when I was 55," says Welsh, now 63. "I was right on
target with my blood pressure and cholesterol, and my weight was 163 pounds,
but I'm 5 feet 6 inches, and I felt comfortable there."
Estrogen and heart disease
Welsh had three things working against her, though: her age, stress, and a hysterectomy (which often
includes removal of estrogen-producing ovaries) she'd had almost 12 years
prior, meaning the protective effects of natural estrogen were long gone.
Estrogen, which binds to receptors in the blood vessels of the heart and as a
result helps them stay elastic, may play a part in keeping the cardiovascular
system healthy. Its binding action also releases nitric oxide, which helps
maintain smooth muscle relaxation in blood vessels, promotes cell growth and
repair, and prevents clot formation.
"After about 10 years, the loss of estrogen can accelerate the process of
cardiovascular disease and put a woman at higher risk," says cardiologist
Having gone through the hysterectomy more than 10 years ago, Welsh was at
the tipping point. What pushed her over the edge was some tragic news: While
working one evening at the hospital, she learned that her son's unborn child
had died during the eighth month of pregnancy, and she was totally
"Two hours later, I had the most profound and excruciating chest pain," says Welsh.
"Immediately they hooked me up to an EKG, which showed signs of a
heart attack. Twenty minutes later I was in the heart catheter lab, where they
found an artery that had dissected from my heart." Her physicians eventually
determined that built-up plaque in her artery caused the heart attack, which
may have been brought on by stress.
Stress and heart disease
"Stress can play a detrimental role in heart health," says Stevens. "It
causes adrenaline to be released from the adrenal glands, which can create an
unstable state in your body and is a significant factor in causing plaque to
become unstable and crack, which could cause a heart attack."
Welsh has recovered from her heart attack, but she is fully aware of her
risk. With long-term heart health in mind, she has a three-pronged approach to
taking care of herself: After the heart attack, she spent several weeks in
cardio rehab and then joined a gym, focusing on strength training. Her diet is
loaded with fruits and veggies and lots of water. And, to lower her stress
levels, she walks, reads, and goes to church.