Registered nurse Terry Sensing stands by a CT scan at St. Dominic’s.


Terry Sensing is a registered nurse in the Healthy Heart program at  St. Dominic Hospital. She recently spoke with MCL Editor Katie Eubanks about heart health. 


Katie Eubanks: First off, what kinds of illnesses can lead to heart disease? 

Terry Sensing:  Uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, inflammation in general, that can affect your arteries and cause the plaque to build up more. 

     And that’s why it can be prevented, because we can control our blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.

     We used to say if your blood pressure was 140 over 90, you need blood pressure medicine. Now if it’s over 130 on the top and 80 on the bottom consistently, you need medicine. The goal is still 120 over 80. The majority of the people, particularly in Mississippi, do not meet that.


KE: Does stress affect heart health?  

TS:  Definitely. Stress increases your cortisol levels, and that can cause inflammation. (It’s important) to manage that stress with exercise, meditation, prayer.  


KE: Tell me about St. Dominic’s $99 Healthy Heart Screening. 

TS: You don’t have to have a doctor’s order. You will have of course your blood pressure checked, and we check cholesterol numbers and your blood sugar. We do an EKG and check the rhythm of your heart. We check for stroke risks and risks of peripheral vascular disease. We do a CT scan and check for plaque in the arteries. 

     We have same-day results. You’re with the nurse the whole time, and we go over it with you. There’s time for some nutritional counseling (as well). 

     We have a location in Madison and then in the Dominican Plaza across the street from the hospital.

     We have saved lives. It’s amazing how many people come in who do not know they have heart disease. Several have had to have open-heart surgery.

     Heart disease can be prevented. Just because you have a strong family history (of heart disease), or risk factors, doesn’t mean you’re going to have heart disease, because being proactive can save your life. 


KE: What are the symptoms of a heart attack, and how are they different for women?

TS: The common symptoms are going to involve a heavy type feeling in the chest, like an elephant sitting on your chest. It makes you short of breath, you get nauseated, break out in a sweat. Those are classic. So if you have those symptoms, immediately dial 911. Don’t drive yourself to a hospital. Have someone else drive you. 

     Sometimes women don’t get the chest pain, and they’re just short of breath and dizzy. They might have pain between their shoulder blades, high abdominal pain. It can mimic indigestion. Therefore a lot of times you talk yourself out of going (to the hospital). 

     But any upper body pain that comes on suddenly and lasts longer than five minutes should be addressed. 


KE: Besides managing stress and getting screened, what can you do to keep your heart healthy?

TS: First of all, no smoking. Smoking is one of the leading causes of heart disease. 

     Also a heart-healthy diet with lots of fiber, fruits, vegetables, and then low sodium. People over 51 really only need about 1500 milligrams of sodium a day. And that’s hard. So you have to read your labels. 

     And I can’t stress enough the importance of exercise. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week is what the American Heart Association recommends. Of course obesity is a huge risk factor. So keeping your weight under control is a good way to prevent heart disease. 

     One thing we haven’t touched on is family history. Like if your mother or father had a heart attack or stroke, particularly in their early years, you need to get a screening — because genetics plays a big role. And age. Women over 55 and men over 45 are more at risk. 


KE: Is there anything about heart health that people would be surprised to learn?

TS: More women die from a heart attack than men do, mainly because the symptoms are harder to distinguish. 

     I would say the thing that most people don’t realize is that it’s preventable. Nobody cares more about your heart than you do. So you have to take control over your choices. And you can make small choices daily.

     I was surprised when I started really studying more about this, just how you can change your numbers. Cholesterol numbers can be changed with diet and exercise. 

To schedule a Heart Healthy Screening at St. Dominic, call 601-200-8000.