Robin Witmer-Kline (center) with Keystone Behavioral Health, answers questions from the crowd gathered at a heart month event sponsored by Summit Cardiology. Witmer-Kline was joined on the panel by the evening’s speakers Dr. Arshad Safi (left) and Dr. Satyajit Mukherjee (right).
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – More than 200 people were in attendance Feb. 21  at Summit Cardiology’s Heart Disease & Stress Management seminar at Wilson College.

Keynote speakers Dr. Arshad Safi of Summit Cardiology and Satyajit Mukherjee, MD of Summit Behavioral Health gave tips to attendees on how to reduce stress in their lives and  how to reduce their risk for heart disease.

Stress and Heart Disease

“Stress can affect our hearts directly and indirectly,” Dr. Safi stated. “And, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States, so it’s important that we try to reduce all of our risks, including stress.”

The doctor told the audience the story of a patient who had experienced a stressful life event and began experiencing chest pains.

“After an extremely stressful event, the patient came to the emergency department with chest pain,” Dr. Safi said. “Her blood test showed that she was having a heart attack. An Ultrasound of her heart revealed a weak heart. Her coronary angiography did not show any blockages, which meant she did not require any stents or bypass surgery. She was treated with medications. And, after three months, her heart was pumping normally.”

Stress induced her heart condition, Dr. Safi said.

“I have seen stress and panic attacks cause heart events,” Dr. Safi said. “But the good news is that stress is something we can work to control.”

Dr. Safi explained that the major risk factors for heart disease included age, gender and family history – all of which we can not control. He explained that the other risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking, and diabetes -- are controllable, including stress.

“Stress can directly affect the heart as in the patient whose heart began to pump at a much slower rate than normal, or it can indirectly affect our hearts,” Safi explained.

“When we are stressed or depressed we are less likely to focus on physical activity, we may eat more and faster, and if you are a smoker, stress may cause you to smoke more,” he said. “All of these lead to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes – heart disease.”

Dr. Safi pointed out to the crowd that when our stress levels increase significantly and our hearts begin to pump harder and faster, we can actually rupture the plaque that we have built up on our artery walls, which will lead to a heart attack.

Emergency Stress Stoppers

Dr. Safi noted several ways to deal with stressors in our lives as they are happening, including

  • Count to 10 before you speak
  • Take deep breaths
  • Walk away, and handle the stressful situation later
  • Take a walk
  • Don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry" if you make a mistake

He encouraged attendees to visit the American Heart Associations website for more helpful tips on how they can manage their stress levels.

“No one deals with stress the same way.”

Dr. Satyajit Mukherjee, a psychiatrist with Summit Behavioral Health also talked to the crowd about ways they can better cope with stressful life situations.

Dr. Mukherjee explained several ways others have found successful in dealing with life’s stress, including:

  • Group therapy and socialization
  • Exercise
  • Transcendental Meditation
  • Mindful Based Intervention

“Group socialization, whether specifically for patients who have experienced the same illness, or in religious settings with people of the same belief systems, has shown to improve our overall stress levels,” Mukherjee explained.

“We need to have a real support system, not just people or family near by,” Mukherjee said. “Proximity does not equal support. We need people we can confide in and trust with our every day lives.”

Mukherjee said that studies have shown that the only social support characteristic that was significantly related to death was lack of group participation.

“It appears that there is something unique and life protective in an organized, regular social activity such as a senior center, church group, or historical society,” he said. “So group interaction is very important to not only stress reduction but overall well being.”

Exercise – good for the heart and the mind

Dr. Mukherjee explained that while we often think of exercise being good for our bodies, we are missing another important benefit – our minds.

“Exercise can reduce stress by releasing certain chemicals in our brain that make us feel generally happier and more relaxed,” Dr. Mukherjee said.

The important thing, according to Dr. Mukherjee, is to not get stressed about trying to reduce your stress.

“You can research stress reduction methods online and try things to see what works for you,” he noted. “The important thing is to start small. Small changes can make a big difference. So, don’t try Yoga for the first time and try to complete some of the most difficult positions and get discouraged, depressed or stressed. Sign up for Yoga, and celebrate that you went to the class and tried your best. The next class will be even better.”

Call 911

Safi left the crowd with an important message about heart attacks – call 911 right away if you’re having chest pain.

Dr. Safi told a story about a patient who suffered a heart attack at home.

“A patient was experiencing chest pains at home,” he said. “The patient had a loved one drive him to the hospital. On the way, the patient lost consciousness. This patient could have been evaluated by EMS and had staff waiting for his arrival had they called the ambulance. And, the driver could have avoided the stress and anxiety of not knowing how to help their friend who was obviously in distress.”

“Call 911, please.” Dr. Safi urged.

According to Dr. Safi, time is heart muscle. The faster a blocked artery can be opened, the better the chance of saving heart tissue.

He stated that the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend 90 minutes as the standard time to open a blocked artery after the patient arrives at the emergency department. According to Dr. Safi, Chambersburg Hospital averaged 46 minutes in 2012.