Cardiology: Signs and Treatment for Heart Disease

Cardiology Signs and Treatment for Heart Disease

What are the statistics for heart disease?

The statistics for heart disease for men and women are astounding. Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease causes 26 percent of deaths in the U.S. or more than one in every four. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. Other types of heart disease may include diseases of the heart muscle, valves, electrical system, or congenital (birth) defects.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), is death of tissue. The pain, pressure, and tightness associated with a heart attack may or may not be extreme. Typically a blockage of fatty deposits or plaque in an artery that feeds the heart muscle progresses to the point where the blood flow slows down and a clot forms in the artery. As a result, without blood and oxygen, this portion of the heart muscle begins to die. The longer the blood supply is cut off, the greater the area of heart damage. In general, we have four hours to open the blood vessel to keep the damage to the heart at a minimum. Time to treatment is critical.

How do you know if you’re at risk for heart disease?

There are many heart disease risk factors and statistics to support these risks. Nearly two-thirds of deaths from heart attacks occur among those who have no history of chest pain. Family history is considered an important risk factor. Individuals who smoke risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than non-smokers. Those with high blood pressure experience a risk of developing coronary heart disease 3.5 times greater than individuals with normal blood pressure. Having diabetes more than doubles the risk of heart attack. Obesity and inactivity leads to an increased risk of premature death due to cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, and coronary artery disease. In addition, there are social and environmental stresses that also increase the risk.

What lifestyle changes can be made to prevent heart disease or improve heart health?

There are many health and lifestyle factors you can do to significantly decrease reduce the chances of getting heart disease, including:

  • Know your numbers—be aware of your blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep them under control
  • Exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke or quit smoking
  • Get tested for diabetes. If you have diabetes, keep it under control
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Relieve stress through physical activity, relaxation, and meditation

What tests/screenings are available to reveal risks for heart disease?

No one diagnostic test can determine risk or presence of heart disease. The cardiology team at Weeks Medical Center uses the latest techniques, equipment, and procedures to evaluate the nature and extent of cardiac disease and develop a treatment plan that meets the individual needs of each patient. Often several tests are required such as: EKG, echocardiography, stress tests, blood work, chest x-ray, MRI, and CT scans. Electrophysiology studies may also be required.

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

Each individual experiences different symptoms of a heart attack. Some individuals experience several symptoms where as others show no symptoms. The symptoms to be aware of include the A-B-Cs:

  • Angina—chest pain, tightness, pressure, burning, squeezing in the chest, back pain, or deep aching and throbbing discomfort in the left or right bicep or forearm, jaw or neck discomfort, or pain radiating to the shoulders
  • Breathlessness—waking up and having difficulty catching one’s breath
  • Clammy perspiration, paleness
  • Dizziness, unexplained lightheadedness, even blackouts
  • Edema—swelling, particularly of the ankles and lower legs
  • Fluttering or rapid heartbeat, fatigue
  • Gastric upset or nausea, particularly in patients with diabetes

What should I do if I think I’m experiencing the signs of a heart attack?

The most important thing to do if you think you are having heart attack symptoms is to call 911 and tell them you’re experiencing symptoms. It can save your life. They will send an ambulance to transport you to the hospital emergency room as quickly as possible so a doctor can examine and treat you. Do not drive yourself or ask someone to drive you. Today’s EMTs and Paramedics are trained to treat and resuscitate a victim of a heart attack. Through Weeks’ affiliation with the New England Heart and Vascular Institute at Catholic Medical Center, patients have access to one of the finest cardiology teams in New England.

If an individual is at high risk for heart disease or survives a heart attack, are there programs that can get the person on the road to good health?

Weeks offers an evidence-based cardiac rehabilitation programs right at the hosptial. This is a medically prescribed and supervised rehabilitation program for those individuals with a cardiac condition. The six-week outpatient program combines behavioral modification, health education classes, and monitored exercise to reduce cardiac risk factors.

Is there a good resource to learn more about heart disease?

One of the best resources for more information is the American Heart Association. The website address is

By Mary Dowd, MD

Mary Dowd is a cardiologist at Weeks Medical Center. For more information or for an appointment, please call 603-788-5095