In 2011, September 29th became World Heart Day. This day is the biggest global awareness raising campaign for cardiovascular health. The goal is not only to raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases but how to control them to decrease their impact on the health of people worldwide. To learn more about cardiovascular diseases, we consulted with AnMed Cardiologists Dr. Natalie Kelsey and Dr. Brian Miller and AnMed Vascular Surgeon Dr. John Muhonen.
Usually the phrase “heart disease” is thought of as a singular condition, however it actually refers to a group of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. It is a broad term that includes various conditions that impact the heart’s blood vessels, rhythm, and overall function.
Says Dr. Kelsey, “Heart disease is a whole family of health problems, but I think is most commonly thought of as coronary artery disease which is the buildup of fatty plaque in the coronary arteries, the arteries that bring blood supply to the heart muscle. There is also valvular heart disease which is the family of problems involving the valves of the heart and cardiomyopathy, which is diseases of the heart muscle itself, including heart failure.”
According to Dr. Muhonen, the difference between heart disease and vascular disease is that vascular disease affects blood vessels and arteries.
“Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a systemic process that causes hardening of the arteries which can lead to strokes, ischemia, or lack of blood flow to your lower extremities or major organs.”
Symptoms of heart and vascular disease may be few and far between in the early stages but there are some common symptoms to be aware of.
“Chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid or slow or irregular heartbeat, swelling, lightheadedness or collapse are common symptoms. It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person and can be attributed to various other medical conditions as well,” stated Dr. Miller.
“Typical symptoms of coronary artery disease include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, and sweatiness,” adds Dr. Kelsey.
“Common symptomology of PAD includes cramping when walking which may be located in the calf, thigh, or buttocks. In the advanced stages you may find wounds of the lower extremities that won’t heal or pain at night in your legs that occurs nightly,” says Dr. Muhonen.
Heart disease is largely a result of three factors: genetics, lifestyle, and environment. There are some conditions that exist from birth, and many other organs and diseases affect the heart, but heart disease usually develops over time. The good news is that we can control a lot of at least 2 out of the 3 contributing factors. Drs. Kelsey, Miller, and Muhonen agree that the most common lifestyle risks are obesity, smoking and secondhand smoke, drug and alcohol abuse, and lack of exercise.
“Smoking is the single most preventable risk factor for most types of heart disease,” says Dr. Miller.
“High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and family history of heart disease are other contributing factors. Smoking, untreated diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol I think are the most important risk factors,” notes Dr. Kelsey.
Knowing the common causes of heart disease is helpful in prevention. Ensuring that any other health conditions are well managed, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, being active, and maintaining a healthy weight are all methods of prevention.
“Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. There is virtually no upper limit to the cardiac benefit of aerobic exercise,” Dr. Miller says.
Exercise can be a key factor in decreasing stress, something that can cause the wheels to come off in our charge to live a healthy and active lifestyle and can have a negative effect on our heart health and overall well-being.
Dr. Miller states, “While some stress and anxiety can be helpful and a normal part of life, too much can raise stress hormones and be detrimental. Exercise and sleep are key to managing stress.”
When it comes to which gender is more prone to heart disease, there is good news and bad news.
“Most forms of heart disease are more common in men. However, women are more likely to die from heart disease due to under-diagnosis and under-treatment,” says Dr. Miller.
According to Dr. Kelsey, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
“An important distinction is that men tend to get heart disease at a younger age than women do. Women typically will have problems with heart disease after menopause,”
We tend to think of heart disease as something that happens later in life, but Dr. Kelsey sees lots of younger patients (under age 50) and sees coronary artery disease in patients in their 30s and 40s.
“Typically, most of my patients fall into the 50-80 age range,” notes Dr. Kelsey.
When a patient is diagnosed with heart disease, there will be a treatment plan consisting of a series of recommendations tailored to the patient’s specific heart disease. This may include medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes.
Dr. Kelsey has hopeful news about treatment.
“We have lots of good medicines that can treat heart disease. Additionally, some patients may benefit from procedures like cardiac catheterization, where we place stents in the heart arteries or even bypass surgery.”
It’s reassuring to know that there are many treatment options for heart disease, and it is rarely directly fatal, since Dr. Kelsey and Dr. Miller’s practice sees approximately 32,000 patients total each year from Anderson and surrounding areas. Dr. Miller sees hundreds of new patients each year and most of his patients do very well.
Dr. Muhonen urges that if you have any symptoms of heart or vascular disease you should be seen by your primary care physician as soon as possible and referred to a vascular surgeon for evaluation.
“AnMed has a comprehensive vascular team that provides full spectrum care for pathologies of both the arterial and venous system with the latest technologies in both open and endovascular intervention.” Learn More