Preventing and Treating Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, which is why prevention and treatment should be a top priority for everyone. Although you may not have any symptoms right now, heart disease can be relatively silent and go unnoticed for a long time.
“Unfortunately, about one in five people die suddenly from heart disease before they ever knew they had a problem,” said Edward LaPorta, M.D., FACC, chief of cardiology at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “It’s something you need to prevent before heart disease develops.”
Who’s at Risk?
Some of the risk factors for heart disease can be inherited. This means that heart disease risk can run in families, so you should be especially vigilant if you have a close blood relative who has suffered a heart attack or stroke.
“Men over the age of 50, post-menopausal women and people who are overweight or obese are at greater risk,” said Dr. LaPorta. “You’re also at greater risk if you smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.”
Common Heart Problems
Heart disease encompasses a range of different issues, including:
- Angina: chronic pain and tightness in the chest, a signal that the heart is not getting enough oxygen.
- Arrhythmia: abnormal heart rate caused by erratic electrical signals in the heart.
- Heart failure: a weakening of the heart’s pumping action.
- Sudden cardiac arrest: an electrical problem that causes the heart to stop.
“By far the most common problem is a blocked artery,” said Dr. LaPorta. “Blocked arteries keep blood from getting to the heart, which is what causes a heart attack.”
Screening Tests and Preventive Measures
To screen for existing and potential heart disease, Dr. LaPorta and the team at Crozer-Keystone Health System use several tests, including:
- Regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks.
- A stress test, during which the patient takes a medication and then exercises on a treadmill while their heart is monitored to see if there are any blockages.
- A coronary calcium scan, which is a special form of CT scan that looks for the buildup of calcium in plaque on the walls of coronary arteries.
If these diagnostic tests confirm heart disease is present, the next step is to perform a heart catheterization. Dye is injected into the arteries of the heart to confirm any blockages. You’ll typically be awake for the procedure, but the doctor will give you medication to keep you relaxed.
“There are several things we can do if the heart catheterization shows a blockage,” said Dr. LaPorta. “This could include stenting, which is when we use a balloon catheter to open up the artery and restore normal blood supply.”
Additional techniques for clearing blockages include bypass surgery, which uses grafts from your leg or chest to bypass the blockage, or medications that allow your heart to adapt to the blockage. Your doctor may also recommend strategies to control your risk factors, like medications for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
“In order to reduce their risks on their own, everyone should exercise regularly, lose excess weight, stop smoking, and take your medications as prescribed,” said Dr. LaPorta. “This advice is important not only for people who have heart disease, but to prevent heart disease from happening in the first place.”
For more information about its cardiovascular programs, visit crozerkeystone.org/Heart. Call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) to find a cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon who’s right for you.