February is not just associated with hearts because of Valentine’s Day...it’s also American Heart Month! Did you know that heart disease kills almost 610,000 people in the United States every year? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. At Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses, some of our clients suffer from one or another type of heart condition. Let’s take a look at what heart disease is, who is at risk for it, and treatments that can help.
What is heart disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others. The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart's muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.” As you can see, there is quite a range of conditions that contribute to heart problems being the leading cause of death for Americans.
What are risk factors for heart disease?
Some of the factors that contribute to your chances of developing heart disease can be controlled, while others are genetic or otherwise not easily controlled. Here are risk factors that increase the likelihood of getting heart disease.
- Smoking. The additional exposure to carbon monoxide decreases your blood’s access to oxygen and contributes to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
- Diabetes. Whether Type I or II, a high blood sugar level can eventually contribute to plaque buildup. Click here to learn all about diabetes.
- Little to no exercise. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop CHD as those who are physically active. A lack of physical activity can worsen other CHD risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and prediabetes, and overweight and obesity.”
- Age. As we get older, the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease increases as plaque in arteries slowly builds up. Some of this is inevitable, and some of it can be helped by living a healthy lifestyle of clean eating, exercise, lots of water, and rest.
- Metabolic syndrome. According to the NHLBI, this is the name for “a group of risk factors that raises your risk for CHD and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke. It’s more common in African-American and Mexican-American women than in men of the same racial groups. A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is made if you have at least three of the following risk factors:
- A large waistline. Having extra fat in the waist area is a greater risk factor for CHD than having extra fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.
- A higher than normal triglyceride level (or you're on medicine to treat high triglycerides).
- A lower than normal HDL cholesterol level (or you're on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol).
- Higher than normal blood pressure (or you're on medicine to treat high blood pressure).
- Higher than normal fasting blood sugar (or you're on medicine to treat diabetes).”
Treatment for heart disease: medications and surgeries.
As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Control the risk factors that can be controlled, and do your best to live a happy, healthy lifestyle. Of course, heart disease can affect you anyway, so let’s take a look at different treatments that are available.
Medicines that can treat various heart conditions include:
- ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, that lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels
- Antiarrhythmics, which correct irregular rhythms from irregular electrical activity in the heart
- Antiplatelet drugs prevent the formation of blood clots
- Calcium channel blocker drugs, which increase supplies of blood and oxygen to the heart
- Clot buster drugs do exactly what they say: help to break up blood clots
- Warfarin, which is an anticoagulant (thins the blood)
Surgeries that can treat various heart conditions include:
- Bypass surgery: This is a way in which blood is given a new pathway to the heart when arteries are blocked. The number (double- or triple-bypass) indicates the number of blocked pathways.
- Cardioversion: A procedure that can help to correct arrhythmia when drugs alone are not effective.
- Pacemakers: These are medical devices that help regulate heart rate by sending electrical impulses to the muscle.
- Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD): A mechanical device that assists in pumping blood out to the body.
- Heart transplant: A surgery in which one person’s diseased heart is removed and replaced with a healthy donor heart. In the eight years between 2000 and 2008, approximately 17,000 people underwent a full heart transplant (just over 2,000 per year) in the United States. The number is so low partially due to the fact that there are so few donor hearts available, and a lot of factors need to be considered before performing a heart transplant.
In home care for those with heart disease.
Since heart disease is such a broad condition, people will need various types of care and treatment after an incident or diagnosis. For those who are temporarily or permanently bedridden, in home care might be a great fit. Our competent and compassionate staff can assist with medication reminders, healthy eating, light exercises, mobility around the home, and more. Please reach out to Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses to see how we can help your loved ones recover and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle after heart disease. To learn more about conditions we can help with, please visit our services page.