Marie Dunican Is Managing To Live Well With Heart Failure

Let’s focus on living, because even with heart failure, you can still be you. Don’t let heart failure stop you. #HeartFailureAwareness

Like us all, Marie Dunican has had memorable birthdays. However, her most recent one proved to be more memorable than most, but for all the wrong reasons as she was diagnosed with heart failure. Despite this setback, Marie is determined to get her life back, get back to work and start living a normal life once again.

“I was diagnosed for my 54th birthday! I was often tired however I put that down to my job, but on the day it happened, I knew I wasn’t right. I wasn’t feeling great at 10pm that night and I said, ‘I need to go to hospital.’ I knew myself I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t climb the stairs, I got really sick and my lungs were full of fluid.”

Once admitted to hospital, Marie was diagnosed and treated for heart failure. With this diagnosis, Marie was able to start adjusting her lifestyle to better manage her condition. She monitors her symptoms on a daily basis to ensure that her condition is kept in check. “I weigh myself every day and I know by my weight if it goes up in a short space of time that the fluid is building up in my lungs and I need to contact the doctor immediately.”

A hiker by nature, Marie tries to get out and exercise regularly, particularly since her diagnosis. “I would be good for climbing hills. I would be fit and I get on the bike as often as I can.” Once she was discharged from hospital, Marie contacted Croí for some support and advice on how she should manage and live with her condition.

“I was really stressed the day I rang Croí. I rang for advice and to see how I can manage this. When I spoke to the nurse in Croí, she reassured me that help is available and gave me the support and information I needed.”

Heart failure can affect different people in different ways. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people are at risk of heart failure and it is the most frequent cause of hospitalisation in people over the age of 65.

Heart Failure Awareness week runs from Oct 4th – 10th. For more information, click here.

Mary Hoare is all set for her latest challenge

Age is but a number for Mary Hoare. The 80 year old, who lives in Cork, has signed up for Croí’s Virtual 5km Night Run which takes place on Friday October 8. This is Mary’s second time taking part as she also did the 5km event last year.

Mary was keen to support Croí and the work they do as she has had family members suffer cardiac problems in past. In February 2020, Mary’s son John suffered a heart attack while getting into his car. It was only due to the good fortune of a trained medic who was passing the scene that John was immediately attended to and made a full recovery after a number of months of care. Mary said, “John was very young and fit, then one morning he suffered a heart attack getting into his card and it was a very scary time for him but thankfully he is now fully recovered.”

The 5km distance will not be a problem for Mary as she recently completed both the Women’s Mini Marathon and the Cork Mini Marathon on the same day! The two events had a combined distance of 16km. While earlier this summer she completed 100 Miles in a Month for the Mater Hospital. Mary is also a regular at her local park run in Cork which have recently returned, “They are a great way to get you up and moving, some Saturdays you might not feel like it but once you come back you feel great that you did it.”

Ahead of International Day of Older Persons on October 1st Mary is very keen to encourage people to get up and stay active, “Exercise is a great way to keep active and keep moving, it is also great from a social side. Some older people stay in and don’t move, but I was always active. I am in walking group that meets every Monday and it is great to get out and meet up with people and get some exercise.”

Mary is looking forward to tackling the Croí Virtual Night Run on Friday, October 8th. Join with your family, friends or colleagues to run, walk or jog the 5km distance in aid of Croí.

Own Your Time – How to maintain your healthy new habits as we return to ‘normal’ life

The pandemic presented immense challenges for many people, but it also had positive benefits for those freed from lengthy commutes and workplace stresses. Dr Lisa Hynes says now is the time to reflect on the lessons of lockdown. 

Dr Lisa Hynes is a health psychologist and Head of Health Programmes at the Croi, heart and stroke centre in Galway. Visit croi.ie for more. 

It’s not that we have more of it, it’s just that we are spending it better. One of the defining features of the past 18 months for so many has been the transition to working from home, and the enjoyment of a commodity that we are able to appreciate now more than ever. That commodity is time. Gone are the hours spent commuting from A to B, and in its place are the seconds taken to slip out of bed and clock in at the kitchen table. Of course, juggling home working with home schooling, and everything else in between, has not been without its challenges. But there have undoubtedly been benefits for our physical health. Thanks to having more time than ever to spend on ourselves, we now have time for morning sea swims. Time for lunchtime walks in the park. Time for evening runs on the streets.

But before the world opens up again and employers start to reopen workplaces, perhaps we need to take some time out. Time out to think about what we might have learned about life under Covid-19 and what we might like to hold on to as we return to our workplace habitats.

Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a group of cardiovascular patients. During our discussion, one woman described how working from home had provided a huge relief from long, exhausting days. Thanks to the extra time at home, and the mental and emotional space this brought, she had been able to adopt healthy new routines, such as preparing nutritious meals and getting some exercise in.

But now she was experiencing that ‘Sunday night fear’ every day as she worried about what’s on the horizon. She has a very real fear that these new routines will no longer be possible when she’s back commuting to the office and enduring a 12-hour working day.

She was afraid, angry, and frustrated at the prospect of losing all of the ground she has gained and the hugely positive impact she has experienced for her heart health.

Dr. Lisa Hynes - Head of Health Programmes / Health Psychologist

So, how to help her? It is useful to reflect that there are three key factors that drive health related behaviours capability, opportunity and motivation. Whether it is changing our diet, starting an exercise routine, or quitting smoking, a number of thing need to line up. And we wonder why it is so difficult a make a change?

But there is help in ensuring our stars align. We are creatures of habit and the strongest predictor of what we do today, is what we did yesterday. Everyone knows what it is like to want to make a change, whether it’s drinking less coffee or going to bed earlier, and how difficult that can be. The truth is, we find it hard to make changes – because it is hard. We tend to approach change with the belief that it should be easy and, if we don’t succeed, it’s our fault. We just didn’t have the “will power”.

We know that up to 90% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented. So why is this information not enough to have us all eating salad and running marathons? It’s because knowledge is just not enough remember, we need to have the “stars” of capability, opportunity and motivation aligned for action.

Covid-19 and its associated restrictions have impacted every aspect of our lives. We all have a story about things we are doing differently. Times of transition, like now as we begin to re-open, are highly stressful. When things get messy, we seek familiarity, comfort and control. If you are finding things a bit confusing and difficult at the moment, you are not alone.

Yet times when the chessboard gets flipped also present opportunities and the chance to reflect and decide how we want things to be. One of the key issues that we need to plan for is how we will deal with the barriers that may stop us from maintaining those healthy changes the pandemic has brought about in our lives.

We now have an ideal opportunity to look ahead and identify those challenges. Once done, we can then put action plans in place to deal with them and, even more importantly, plan how to get back on that horse should we fall off. We know what’s coming, even if we don’t know when. A return to the commute and being bumper to bumper. A return to the office and the constantly ringing phone. A return to the sandwich shop and queues out the door at lunchtime. A slow and gradual return to life as we knew it.

Think about giving yourself time out now to reflect on ways you might approach these changes to best support your heart health and overall wellbeing.

There really is no time to lose.

TAKE 5 – Lockdown lessons and adjusting to post-pandemic life

 

  1. Be a pleasure seeker: Reflect on the things that you really enjoyed during lockdown and think of ways to carry them forward into your new reality.
  2. Break those barriers: If you managed to create a healthy lunch routine while working from home, why not make it the evening before so it doesn’t fall victim to the snooze button? If you’ve been loving your morning walk and slow cup of coffee, why not jump into bed ahead of your usual time so you can have an earlier start?
  3. Be real: Don’t put yourself under such pressure that you‘re setting yourself up for a fall. We can make a real difference to our heart health through simple actions completed every day. Pick one or two achievable goals and celebrate your successes.
  4. A problem shared: If you are worried about the changes ahead, talk to friends and family to see if they also have concerns. It helps to share our worries and we can also uncover opportunities to support each other.
  5. Be sociable: It may take a bit of time to dust off those social skills, but social interaction is so important for wellbeing and can really support healthy routines. Why not start a lunchtime walking group with your colleagues? You’ll be able to keep up your current exercise routine and give the afternoon slump the hump.

Part 2. How can I reduce my Blood Pressure?

In the first part of this two part series on blood pressure we discussed what blood pressure is, it’s causes and how you can identify high blood pressure. In this article we will discuss what you can do to reduce your blood pressure.

How can I reduce my Blood Pressure?

Everyone can benefit from taking measures to lower blood pressure. Even if you have a healthy blood pressure you can still take steps to ensure it remains healthy. The following lifestyle modifications can help significantly lower your blood pressure:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Increase fruit and vegetables
  • Become more physically active
  • Try to manage stress

1. Maintain a healthy weight

It is well researched that being overweight can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure. Maintaining a well balanced diet can considerably reduce your blood pressure. Losing as little as 10% of excess weight can lower blood pressure.

Being overweight is also a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Consult with your GP/Nurse to set realistic achievable goals for weight reduction.

10% weight reduction can lower your BP by 10-20mmHg.

2. Stop Smoking

If you smoke, stop! Smoking is another major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Once you quit, your risk of having a heart attack will be halved within two years. There are lots of different methods to help make quitting easier. Consult with your GP/Nurse to see what is suitable for you.

3. Reduce your salt intake

If everyone in Ireland reduced salt intake by half a teaspoon (2.4 grams per day), this could prevent approximately 900 deaths each year from stroke and heart disease.

People in Ireland take too much salt and this is directly linked to high blood pressure. It is the sodium in salt that affects blood pressure.

Tips for cutting down on your salt intake

  • Do not add salt to your food at the table.
  • Avoid adding salt to food while cooking.
  • Cut down on processed foods that are generally high in salt.
  • Try flavouring your foods with pepper, spices or herbs as alternatives to salt.
  • Sea salt, rock salt, garlic salt and table salt all have the same sodium content.

4. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables

High blood pressure can be reduced by following a healthy eating plan that is high in fruit and vegetables. Adults should eat at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables every day. Buy lots of fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours. Fruits and vegetables have been significantly proven to help prevent diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

5. Drink alcohol in moderation

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with high blood pressure. It can harm the liver, brain and heart. Many people find that their blood pressure improves when they decrease their alcohol consumption. Alcohol is measured in units. The recommendations for both men and women are shown below.

  • Men Maximum 17 units over 7 days
  • Women Maximum 11 units over 7 days

1 UNIT OF ALCOHOL:

  • ½ pint of beer
  • a small glass of wine (100ml)
  • 1 pub measure of spirits

6. Become more physically active

Being physically active is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent or control high blood pressure. It also helps to reduce your overall risk of heart disease. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. One way of achieving this is a 30 minute brisk walk 5 days per week.

Tips for being more active:

  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Get off the bus one or two stops earlier.
  • Park your car at the far end of the car park.
  • Remember any activity that leaves you warm and slightly out of breath is good

7. Try to manage your stress

Anxiety and stress may raise your blood pressure in the short term. This is a normal response and healthy blood vessels can cope with these changes. However, if your blood pressure is raised for long periods of time due to stress, this will eventually damage the walls of your arteries.

Try to develop methods of coping with stress that you can practice anywhere, a way of “switching off” for 5-10 minutes. Relaxation exercises can help to release brain chemicals that act as your body’s natural brain tranquilizers, helping to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels.

Part 1. Blood Pressure and your body

Blood Pressure and your body

High blood pressure has many harmful effects on the body. It increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

By taking control of your blood pressure you can make a positive step towards reducing your overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Ireland has one of the highest incidence rates of Stroke and Coronary Artery Disease in Europe, with six in ten of all Irish adults having high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause silent damage to the blood vessels and the heart. If left untreated the damage may progress and result in a stroke or a heart attack.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts. Everyone has blood pressure. While a certain amount of pressure is needed to keep the blood flowing, this pressure can increase if the blood meets resistance in the arteries. Blood flowing through the arteries at high pressure can damage artery walls. If this pressure is persistently high, this is called high blood pressure or “hypertension”.

High blood pressure is a sign that the heart and blood vessels are being overworked.

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers

  • The “systolic” pressure is the pressure exerted on the arteries when the heart is beating.
  • The “diastolic” pressure is the pressure present in the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats.

Blood pressure is expressed as the systolic pressure “over” the diastolic pressure. For example, a blood pressure measurement of 120/80 is expressed as “120 over 80”.

How do I know if I have High Blood Pressure?

A consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure. You may not know you have high blood pressure, as usually there are no warning signs or symptoms. The only way to know if your blood pressure is high, is to have it checked. Therefore, it is very important to have your blood pressure checked once a year

Initial assessment:

  • Having your blood pressure measured is quick and easy, and can be done by your doctor or nurse.
  • Blood pressure is measured using a special instrument called a sphygmomanometer. This involves a cuff being wrapped around your arm just above the elbow, which is then inflated. Automatic blood pressure monitors are commonly used. In these cases the blood pressure reading appears on a small screen.
  • Blood pressure is just one of the risk factors for heart disease or stroke, therefore your doctor may decide to do some extra blood and urine tests to identify other risk factors that you may have.

Repeat assessment:

Most doctors will diagnose a person with high blood pressure on the basis of a number of readings. However sometimes your GP may recommend 24 hour blood pressure monitoring. If so:

  • This monitor must be worn for 24 hours and will inflate and check your blood pressure every half hour.
  • Your blood pressure will vary at different times of the day depending on your activity levels, therefore it is important to carry out your normal daily activities while wearing the monitor.
  • This method of blood pressure monitoring is particularly good for patients who only experience high blood pressure when they visit the doctor’s surgery. This is called “white coat hypertension”. Blood pressure can rise when a person is nervous or anxious

Monitoring Blood Pressure at Home

Many people also like to monitor their blood pressure themselves using a home blood pressure monitor. The British & Irish Hypertension Society publishes the only independent, validated blood pressure monitors for home use, not governed by commercial interest. For a full list of validated blood pressure monitors, click here, or here is Croí’s short-list of recommended blood pressure monitors:

  • A&D UA-705: Upper Arm
  • A&D UA-704: Upper Arm
  • Omron M2 Compact (HEM-7102-E): Upper Arm
  • Omron M2 Basic (HEM-7116-E) (Derivative of M3-I (HEM-7051-E)): Upper Arm
  • Omron M7 (HEM-780-E): Upper Arm

What causes High Blood Pressure?

In the majority of people there is no single clear cause of high blood pressure. However, there are a number of factors that contribute to high blood pressure. These include:

  • Family history of high blood pressure.
  • Age (as you grow older, blood pressure tends to rise).
  • Being overweight.
  • A high intake of sodium (salt) in the diet.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • A high intake of alcohol.
  • Ethnic Origin: people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities have a higher predisposition to developing high blood pressure.

In the remainder of people who don’t fit into the above category, high blood pressure can arise as a result of other diseases such as a kidney disease, disorders of the adrenal gland etc.

What should my Blood Pressure be?

It is very important to know the recommended target level for blood pressure.

Target Level Less than 140/90 mmHg*

If you have Diabetes, Heart Disease, Kidney Disease, or if you have had a Stroke your doctor may prescribe a lower target level.

Advice for people managing High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) at home

It is not clear why people with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing complications if they contract COVID-19, so it is important to follow all the recommended advice on staying safe and take any heart medication your doctor has prescribed.

You have high blood pressure when your blood pressure readings are more than 140 over 90 consistently over several readings. When on treatment for high blood pressure the target for most people is to have a blood pressure below 130/80mmHg particularly if you have had a cardiac event or stroke; have other risk factors; or have diabetes.

High blood pressure is very common in Ireland and by taking control of your blood pressure you can make a positive step towards reducing your overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke. You can do this following the medical advice you are given by your doctor, having regular check-ups, taking your medication as prescribed and making positive lifestyle changes.

Many people also like to monitor their blood pressure themselves using a home blood pressure monitor. The British & Irish Hypertension Society publishes the only independent, validated blood pressure monitors for home use, not governed by commercial interest. For a full list of validated blood pressure monitors, click here, or here is Croí’s short-list of recommended blood pressure monitors:

  • A&D UA-705: Upper Arm
  • A&D UA-704: Upper Arm
  • Omron M2 Compact (HEM-7102-E): Upper Arm
  • Omron M2 Basic (HEM-7116-E) (Derivative of M3-I (HEM-7051-E)): Upper Arm
  • Omron M7 (HEM-780-E): Upper Arm

The following video outlines how to measure your blood pressure using a validated monitor to ensure it is recorded accurately.

For more information on High Blood Pressure, click here.

National Workplace Wellbeing Day!

Friday, April 30th, is National Workplace Wellbeing Day!

The last year has brought about a massive change to everyday working life, but Team Croí aims to stay connected and active throughout the day.

It can be hard to see opportunities for healthy activities during the busy workday. Lisa, Croí’s Head of Health Programmes, has provided 3 top tips to boost your heart health, sense of wellbeing and your productivity this Workplace Wellbeing Day: Hydrate, Move & Connect!

 

  1. Hydrate! We all know that it’s important to drink plenty of water – about eight 200ml glasses a day for women and ten 200ml glasses a day for men. Drinking enough water plays a role in many processes in the body, including digestion, and when we are dehydrated our energy levels and focus can be impacted. Drinking water also helps to manage our appetite as we can confuse thirst for hunger at times. Fitting more water breaks into your work day also offers an opportunity to get a break from your screen and take a breath! Can you fit just one more glass of water into your day?
  2. Move! There are so many benefits to moving more during your work day! We are not suggesting that you run a quick 5km at lunch time – reducing sitting time by getting up and stretching regularly, standing for a couple of meetings, having a three minute dance party as you heat up your lunch, it all counts as physical activity! Moving around is also an effective way to shake out stress and tension during a busy workday – bringing us back to the dance party idea! Can you set an alarm to remind you to get up and move around a couple more times a day?
  3. Connect! This has been a year of both great disconnection and a whole new kind of connection. We haven’t seen many of our family or friends, but many of us have been on countless Zoom calls with all corners of the world! Humans are social creatures, and when it’s harder or impossible for many of us to connect in the tea room, or meet for a coffee these days, it’s extra important to figure out how we can meet our connection needs. Having strong social connections has a major impact on our psychological wellbeing and has also been linked with better physical health! Whether it’s a walk at lunch time, a non-work Zoom coffee, or a couple of voice notes, try to fit in time to connect with people during your work day to share a problem or a worry, support someone else, or just to have a laugh!

 

Check out our recent Instagram Reel of some members of Team Croí incorporating these activities into their workday! Follow us on Instagram – @croiheartstroke.

Dr. Lisa Hynes - Head of Health Programmes / Health Psychologist

Croí Connects – Your questions answered

Croí Connects Banner

Welcome to Croí’s weekly Q&A series, Croí Connects

Through this new series, Croí will connect with medical experts each week for a questions and answers session to help answer your questions on heart disease, stroke, COVID-19 and lots more. Our Croí Connects video series will be shared here and on our Facebook page.

Each month we will announce our upcoming guest expert on Croí Connects. You are invited to submit your questions the week in advance. Your questions can be submitted using the form below, or you can call Croí on 091-544310.

Stay tuned for our next Croí Connects!

Croí Connects: Weight Bias and Obesity Stigma

Croí Connects: Sleep Management

Croí Connects: Stress Management

Croí Connects: World Heart Day Special

Croí Connects: Heart Valve Disease

Croí Connects: Obesity

Croí Connects: Diabetes

Croi Connects: Heart Attack & CPR

Croí Connects: Mayo Farmers Month Special

Croí Connects: World Stroke Day Special

Croí Connects: ICD

Croí Connects: Physical Activity

Croí Connects: Heart Failure

Croí Connects: Stroke

Croí Connects: Diet & Nutrition

Croí Connects: Heart Disease

Energy Ball Snacks to Fuel You on the Couch to Wild Atlantic Way Challenge

Croí’s Dietitian, Aisling, has designed the perfect recipe for Energy Ball Bites! These tasty and healthy treats are the perfect little snack to give you a quick but light energy boost. Try them out and, if you’re doing Croí’s Couch to Wild Atlantic Way challenge, pack them up and bring them with you for a mid-walk snack!

The natural sugars from the dates provide energy and sweetness, while the healthy fats and protein in the nuts satisfy that peckish feeling. However, because they are small, they are a perfect pre-workout snack as they won’t fill you up too much but will give you an energy boost for your session.

There are so many varieties and flavour combinations from chocolate, orange zest, coconut or peanut butter, but the basic ingredients of dates and nuts always remains the same so, once you’ve made these yourself once or twice, don’t be afraid to get experimenting!

Croí Energy Balls – Basic Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 100g medjool dates (or regular dried dates pre-soaked in water)
  • 50g nuts (I used hazelnuts but you could also use almonds or Brazil nuts)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder, plus extra for coating
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp honey

Method:

  1. Blend the nuts finely.
  2. Add in the dates and blend again until completely mixed. You may have to scrape down the sides of the blender a few times to make sure everything gets blended.
  3. Add in the chia seeds, cocoa powder and honey and blend again.
  4. Take out tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls.
  5. Coat in some cocoa powder

Make a healthier pancake this Shrove Tuesday!

Heart Healthy Pancakes!

This Tuesday, the frying pans won’t know what hit them with all the pancakes that will be made! Although a popular and tasty treat, pancakes and the toppings that come with them are often high in sugar and saturated fats.

This year, why not opt for the healthy choice and try Croí’s heart healthy pancakes, featuring soaked oats and banana. These delicious pancakes are full of heart-friendly ingredients, with the same great taste as traditional pancakes – the kids won’t even know the difference. Croí’s Lead Dietitian has also suggested some healthy toppings that just taste like more! Check out the ingredient list here and follow along with the video above for the method:

Ingredients: 

  • 150g soaked porridge oats
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 large, free-range eggs
  • 100ml skimmed milk
  • 2 tsp rapeseed oil

Suggested toppings:

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower & Pumpkin seeds
  • Cinnamon
  • Low-fat yogurt

Learn about the ingredients in the pancakes and the benefits they have for you!