Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Dr. Patrick Fisher, a cardiologist specializing in heart failure, recommended some callers get immediate help during Saturday's call-in.

Dr. Patrick Fisher told a couple of callers they should go to their nearby emergency room when they phoned into Saturday's Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Health Hotline on heart failure.

One caller said he was scheduled, a month out, to have a stress test. But after strenuous snow shoveling in the wake of recent storms, he had chest and arm pain. Though they subsided, he's still experiencing shortness of breath. Should he be concerned? he asked.

Fisher, a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and heart transplant in Intermountain Medical Center's heart failure program, said someone experiencing those symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Most of the calls to the busy hotline were less dramatic. Fisher and nurse practitioner Kismet Rasmusson, also with the IMC program, fielded questions ranging from unexpected weight gain and fluid retention — which can be hallmarks of heart failure — to a recent study that cast doubt on the efficacy of the drug Zetia to prolong life for heart patients.

A number of the callers did not know that they can refer themselves to a heart doctor. Several said they do not have a regular doctor and weren't sure what to do.

It's best to establish a relationship with a doctor who can look after a broad range of medical issues and who can make a referral to specialists as needed, Rasmusson said. But anyone can call a clinic like IMC's heart failure program and make an appointment.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart muscle weakens and does not pump blood efficiently. An estimated 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with it, and it accounts for 300,000 deaths a year. But it can be managed as a chronic disease in most cases, with good care, Fisher and Rasmusson agreed.

Fisher said the Zetia study has not changed the medications he and others prescribe. The drug is usually used in combination with statins, proven to lower cholesterol and help patients with heart failure. Assuming a patient is doing well on their medication, "I would not change them, and I am not taking patients off the drug based on a single study," he said.

The IMC clinic is participating in a multi-center clinical trial called CHAMPION (CardioMEMS Heart Sensor Allows Monitoring of Pressure to Improve Outcomes in NYHA Class III Patients). A wireless sensor in a miniature device is implanted in a patient's pulmonary artery, and the pressure and other data are transmitted. The results are sent daily to the physician, who can use the information to help make clinical decisions on managing the heart failure. (Anyone interested can call Kim Allen at 507-4777.)

IMC is also sponsoring a health fair on Wednesday, with free screenings. The fair, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Doty Education Auditorium near the main entrance, offers information on a variety of topics, including heart disease, heart failure, heart transplant, ventricle-assist devices, diabetes and more.

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