The Wyoming Valley May Have Heart, but It’s Unhealthy

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The CDC recently published its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the results aren't good for the people of this area. A five-county region of Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of heart disease in all of Pennsylvania.

Residents of Luzerne, Lackawanna, Columbia, Sullivan and Wyoming counties have the distinction of being the most heart unhealthy in the state. That's not exactly a point of pride, says Dr. Tom Isaacson. He's the Chief of Cardiology at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre.

Figuring out the reasons behind the statistic, he points out, is tricky. But one big risk factor immediately comes to mind.

"We talk a lot about smoking, and why? Because smoking is one of the most damaging thing to heart vessels. it damages them, then allows cholesterol to build, and then allows other things that injure the vessel to go on," Dr. Isaacson said.

Smokers also have a higher liklihood that if they do have a heart attack, they will die more suddenly than non-smokers. Also on the list of risk factors? High blood pressure, high salt intake and diabetes. There's no shortage of restaurants in the area, fast food and otherwise, and Dr. Isaacson says people's poor eating habits play a very large role in their risk for developing heart disease.

"Genes load the gun. But the environment can pull the trigger," Dr. Isaacson said.

Finally, lack of physical activity is a key indicator. The CDC didn't study specifics of how much or how little people in the area exercise, but talking about being more physically fit is just one way to open the larger conversation he says people around here need to have with their own doctors.

"Can you start by losing 5 pounds? Can you start by saying, I'm gonna cut down on cigarettes starting on this date? How am I gonna go about it? There's no shoe size that fits all. People need to do what works for them."