Understanding Heart Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment
Lifestyle and Your Heart
If you smoke, quit. You should also get in the habit of exercising, because exercise strengthens the heart and blood vessels, reduces stress, and has been shown to reduce blood pressure while also boosting HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Numerous studies done in recent decades indicate that drinking alcohol in moderation may actually reduce the risk of heart disease. But more than one drink a day for women, or more than one to two a day for men, is not recommended.
Learning to relax may help prevent and treat heart disease. While success varies from person to person, stress-reduction techniques have been shown to reduce high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and emotional responses such as anxiety, anger, and hostility that have been linked to coronary heart disease, angina, and heart attack. The choice of relaxation technique is up to you. Some that have proved beneficial are meditation, progressive relaxation, yoga, and biofeedback training.
Nutrition, Diet, and Your Heart
Even modest changes in diet and lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. Being overweight, especially in the mid-section, can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. If you are 20% or more over the ideal weight for your age, height, and sex, you put a strain on your heart's ability to pump blood efficiently. Although lowering sodium and trans fat consumption are important for lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, equally vital is increasing intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole unprocessed high-fiber grains, and healthy sources of fats and proteins (as from fish, nuts, seeds, soy-based items, avocados, etc.).
Treatment for Coronary Artery Disease
Drug treatments may include daily aspirin, and drugs such as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. Treatments may also target high blood pressure and high cholesterol -- two major risk factors for coronary disease. In addition, your doctor may recommend surgical treatments such as balloon angioplasty (usually using a metal stent to prop open the vessels) or open heart surgery to bypass blocked heart arteries.
Treatment for Heart Failure
Treatment usually depends on the cause of heart failure, but often includes drugs to help control symptoms, such as diuretics or water pills to flush the body of fluids, beta-blockers to block adrenaline’s action, and ACE inhibitors to help modulate sodium and potassium balance and improve blood pressure levels. Devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators are sometimes implanted to improve the heart's function and/or prevent deadly arrhythmias. In very advanced cases, heart transplantation may be a consideration.