St. Anthony’s new cardiologist talks heart health |

St. Anthony’s new cardiologist talks heart health

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

FRISCO ” Travel to the high country may be associated with heart problems such as coronary-artery disease, heart failure and arrhythmias, Dr. Warren Johnson explained at St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center on Wednesday.

People whose bodies aren’t adapted to Summit County’s elevations ” and who ascend quickly from sea level ” can be affected by a variety of diseases, regardless of age. The immediate effect is elevated heart rates, blood pressure and respiration.

“The heart’s having to not only beat harder” but against increased pressure, Johnson said.

Coronary-artery disease involves build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries, which supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat.

Cardiac arrhythmia, including atrial fibrillation or flutter, may worsen after rapid ascent to altitude, even without underlying coronary-artery disease, according to WebMD at

Johnson visited the hospital last week to speak during heart health month. He is to be the hospital’s full-time cardiologist starting May 18 and has worked for the past 32 years in Kansas City, Mo.

His presentation, attended by about 30 people, touched on several conditions associated with elevation and heart health.

He used a graph on PowerPoint to illustrate elevation and barometric pressure differences among Denver, Frisco and the Himalayas. Levels at and above 26,000 feet above sea level are listed as the “death zone,” and elevations more than 10,000 feet were labeled “high.”

He used the illustration to explain what’s happening with a person’s body as it ascends such heights.

Acute mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary edema, high-altitude cerebral edema and high-altitude retinal hemorrhage are somewhat common diseases that can affect otherwise healthy people, depending on elevation.

“These can kill you,” Johnson said.

The best way to avoid such afflictions is to ascend gradually, perhaps by staying a night or two in Denver if traveling to Summit County from sea level. Stimulants, alcohol and lack of hydration can contribute to altitude-related health problems.

Johnson said present American lifestyles can exacerbate problems with the heart. His presentation depicted fast food and low exercise as contributing factors.

“Our jobs don’t require as active a lifestyle” relative to those of humanity’s past, he said.

He also said local residents ” especially the elderly ” should keep an eye on their Vitamin D levels, which can be checked through blood tests.

“In the winter, you don’t get enough sunlight,” he said. “Check your Vitamin D and if you are low, it is worth replenishing.”

He said elderly peoples’ skin is less efficient at converting sunlight into Vitamin D, and calcification can become a problem for people with Vitamin D deficiencies.

Johnson took some questions after his presentation. He explained that for athletes training at high elevations, their increased red blood-cell numbers could help give them an advantage if they travel immediately to a lower elevations for competition.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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