Valentine’s season is a great time to get better acquainted with your heart health
By Katie Gantt
The last decade has born witness to groundbreaking advances in the field of cardiovascular care. While heart disease continues to plague Americans as the number one cause of death among men, women, and most ethic groups – new, minimally invasive technology and procedures are enabling patients to live longer while also enjoying a much higher quality of life. However, lowering the number cases of heart disease among Americans remains a top priority in the field – one that can be facilitated only through prevention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one person dies every 37 seconds from cardiovascular disease in the U.S. and about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year (that’s 1 in every 4 deaths). The most common type of heart disease among Americans is coronary artery disease (CAD): the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries usually caused by the buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits on the inner walls of the arteries.
Coronary artery disease kills approximately 366,000 people in the U.S. every year, with 20% of deaths occurring in adults under the age of 65. CAD is also the leading cause of heart attacks. Every year, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack. Approximately 1 in 5 heart attacks is “silent,” meaning the damage is done but the victim is not aware of it. Important warning signs that one may be having a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort, nausea, feeling light-headed or unusually tired, pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back, pain or discomfort in the arm or shoulder, and shortness of breath. If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or another, call 911 immediately. Getting treatment as quickly as possible can help to reduce the amount of damage done to the heart muscle. The chances of surviving a heart attack are better the sooner an emergency treatment begins.
We spoke with Brian P. Wall, MD, FACC, of Lexington Medical Heart and Vascular Center in West Columbia to learn more about the procedures that are saving so many lives and to find out what readers can do to prevent heart disease from occurring. He foremost emphasized the importance of disease prevention. “I’m huge on prevention,” he said. “The number one thing you can do to prevent heart disease is lifestyle modification. That means eating a heart-healthy diet (a mostly plant-based one), getting daily physical activity in (at least 20 minutes per day), maintaining your proper weight, and controlling risk factors such as diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol.” He also emphasized how important it is that anyone concerned with their heart health stop smoking.
According to Dr. Wall, one of the areas with the most advances in technology is structural heart disease, specifically the way doctors treat valve disease. That includes people with severe aortic stenosis.
“Patients with severe aortic stenosis have a narrowed aortic valve that does not allow blood to flow efficiently. As the heart works harder to pump enough blood through the smaller opening in the valve, the heart eventually becomes weak. Over time, that can lead to life-threatening heart problems.” In the past, doctors repaired or replaced the aortic valve with open-heart surgery. Then came Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (known as TAVR).
TAVR allows doctors to replace the heart’s aortic valve with a catheter instead of open-heart surgery. To replace the diseased aortic valve with TAVR, the new aortic valve is compressed into a catheter. Doctors thread the catheter through the body to the inside of the diseased aortic valve. Then, they deploy the new valve inside the diseased aortic valve, which becomes the anchor for the new valve. The new valve is functional immediately and normal blood flow is restored. Patients can typically go home the next day. In contrast, open-heart surgery patients typically spend 5-7 days in the hospital followed by several months of rehabilitation.
Lexington Medical Heart and Vascular Center has performed more than 540 TAVR procedures.
The MitraClip ™ is another important advancement in the field of cardiovascular medicine. The device is a small clip that is attached to the mitral valve. It treats mitral regurgitation (leaking) by allowing the mitral valve to close more completely, helping to restore normal blood flow through the heart. As with TAVR, the MitraClip is also placed in the heart through a catheter procedure.
“In the last ten years, I’ve watched these innovations revolutionize the field of cardiovascular medicine,” said Dr. Wall. “Patients are living longer and enjoying their lives more thanks to these procedures. It’s been great to witness.”
The Lexington Medical Heart and Vascular Center, since its conception in 2012, has performed 2,381 open heart surgeries, 543 Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacements, and maintains a 3-Star rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the highest score possible.