Heart Disease

Because so many people are affected by coronary artery disease, there are many treatment options available, including medication and surgery—and more are being developed all the time. Living a healthy lifestyle is also extremely important. The idea is not only to relieve symptoms of heart disease, but also slow or even reverse the build-up of plaque to reduce risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. The most important steps coronary artery patients can take themselves are quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, limiting alcohol and sodium intake, and getting plenty of exercise. Reducing stress, especially emotional stress, is also key: Research has shown that heart attack risk increases after the death of a loved one. Your doctor may also recommend a formal cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehab teams can help heart disease patients make necessary lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercises and coping with stress. If lifestyle changes alone can’t keep heart disease in check, medication can also help. Statin medications are a common cholesterol-lowering drug (lower cholesterol means reduced risk of heart attack or stroke). Because high blood pressure strains the heart and damages the arteries, blood pressure drugs such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics may also be prescribed. Medical procedures, including surgery, are another common treatment for heart disease. Some can be done on an outpatient basis or with a single overnight stay in the hospital. One option is angioplasty, which involves inserting a tube with an attached balloon into the diseased artery, then inflating the balloon to widen the artery. A wire-mesh stent can also be left in the artery permanently to prop it open. Another option is bypass surgery, in which vessels from other parts of your body are rerouted around the blockage, providing an alternate route for blood to flow (how a highway bypass can avoid construction, for example). Getting the right treatment and implementing smart lifestyle changes can keep many heart disease patients healthy for years to come—even for those who have suffered heart attacks. In fact, even people who have massive heart attacks can survive and prosper.

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