The following are some of the most frequently asked questions of our cardiologists about heart and vascular disease. As in all medical situations, each patient’s conditions and needs are different, and you should consult with one of our specialists for an individual heart and vascular treatment plan.
1. What are the common risks for heart disease?
There are many factors that can contribute to heart disease. Smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes, age, gender, and heredity (including race) are among some of the common risks associated with heart disease.
2. What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (also called coronary heart disease) is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. It is the leading cause of the death in the U.S.
Coronary heart disease is typically the result of atherosclerosis- a build up of plaque on artery walls that causes them to become narrow. This, in turn, can limit blood flow to the heart or stop the flow altogether, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, or even a heart attack.
3. What is a cardiac catheterization?
Cardiac catheterization (or “cardiac cath”) is one of many methods used to test, diagnose, and treat coronary artery disease. It involves threading a long, thin tube (called a catheter) through an artery or vein in the leg or arm and into the heart. Different techniques may be employed during cardiac catheterization, depending on what your doctor is trying to accomplish. A dye may be injected through the catheter to see the heart and its arteries (angiography), or electrical impulses may be sent through the catheter to study irregular heartbeats (electrophysiology).
4. What is a cardiac arrhythmia?
Simply put, arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats caused by a disturbance in the electrical activity necessary to pace your heartbeat. More than 4.3 million Americans have recurrent arrhythmias that can be deadly if left untreated.
Arrhythmias fall into one of two categories: ventricular and supraventricular. Ventricular arrhythmias happen in the heart's two lower chambers. Supraventricular arrhythmias typically happen in the heart's two upper chambers.
There are several ways to treat arrhythmias, ranging from catheter ablation, where the malfunctioning tissue is destroyed, to implantable devices like pacemakers.
5. What is a pacemaker and how does it work?
A pacemaker is a device that is implanted into a patient to regulate his or her heartbeat. Timed electrical impulses are sent through tiny wires attached to the heart to help pace the heartbeat. Most pacemakers only generate an electrical impulse on an as-needed basis using a special sensor. Batteries generally last five or more years and can be replaced with a minor surgical procedure.
6. What is an aneurysm and how do you treat it?
An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel that occurs when blood flow passes through a weak portion of a blood vessel, causing the walls to expand outward. Most aneurysms occur in the brain or aorta. Not all aneurysms are life-threatening; only those found in major arteries need to be treated. An aneurysm that ruptures could cause internal bleeding that could lead to death.
Treatment depends on the size and location of your aneurysm as well as your overall health. Aneurysms in the upper chest (ascending aorta) are usually operated on right away. Aneurysms in the lower chest or the area below your stomach (descending thoracic and abdominal portions of the aorta) may not be as dangerous and will generally be monitored unless they grow or begin to cause symptoms.
Doctors also may prescribe medicine that lowers blood pressure to relieve the stress on the arterial walls. This is especially beneficial to patients where the risk of surgery may be greater than the risk of the aneurysm itself. Other treatment options include the use of stents to relieve pressure on the walls of the blood vessel around the aneurysm site.
7. What is coronary bypass surgery?
When arteries become so clogged with plaque that blood flow is threatened, doctors may opt to perform bypass surgery. This surgery restores normal blood flow through “bypassing” the clogged area. The bypass is created by taking a section of a vein or artery from the leg or chest and sewing it to the diseased coronary artery to create a new route for blood to flow.
Coronary bypass surgery has proven to be safe and effective for the majority of patients, but it does require a longer recovery time than less invasive procedures. Many patients are advised to take rehabilitation and nutrition classes to help adopt a healthier lifestyle.
8. What is angioplasty?
Angioplasty is a procedure performed by interventional cardiologists to open narrowed arteries. A small, balloon-tipped catheter is inserted and guided into the artery, then inflated at the blockage site to flatten the plaque against the artery wall. After treatment, the catheter is removed. A stent, or a small mesh tube, may be left in place to keep the passage open. Although recovery time is much shorter for angioplasty than it is for a coronary bypass, the patient could face more blockages in the future.
9. What is congestive heart failure?
Heart failure means your heart is not pumping well enough to deliver the vital, oxygen-rich blood that your body needs to function properly. Congestive heart failure happens when weak pumping results in a buildup of fluid (called congestion) in your lungs and other body tissues. This typically develops slowly and patients can go years with no symptoms. The slow onset and progression of congestive heart failure is due to the heart's efforts to make up for weak pumping by enlarging and forcing it self to pump faster.
To ease the burden on your heart, your cardiologist may recommend lifestyle changes, medicine, transcatheter interventions, or surgery.
10. What is a stroke and what are the warning signs?
A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off or when trauma occurs to the brain that results in blood loss, such as a ruptured artery. Risk factors for a stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, diabetes, and high red blood cell count. The risk of stroke also increases with age. Heavy alcohol use increases your risk of bleeding (hemorrhagic) strokes.
The warning signs for stroke may include a sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg; trouble talking or understanding others; temporary vision loss, especially in one eye; double vision; unexplained headaches and dizziness; or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which involves stroke-like symptoms due to a temporary disruption in the flow of blood to the brain.