Having a healthy heart is one of life’s must-dos. That’s why if your doctor suspects there’s something wrong with your ticker, he or she may recommend one or more of these treatment options.
Often, the first step to a stronger heart is a change in habits:
Practice smart eating. Focus on enjoying a more plant-based diet—one that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Make meat a secondary item on your plate. Limit sodium and saturated fats.
Aim for a healthy weight. Even a small weight loss (if you’re overweight) can provide a big benefit.
Say no to stress overload. Learn to relax with deep-breathing exercises. Or consider taking a stress-management class.
Get active. Just be sure to review your new exercise plan with your doctor first.
If you light up, quit. Giving up smoking may be the healthiest change you can make. Ask your doctor for help dropping the habit.
A diagnosis of heart disease can trigger a list of new medications. Some of these drugs might do double-duty.
For example, a class of drugs called ACE inhibitors treats both high blood pressure and heart failure. Beta-blockers may be used to lower blood pressure, relieve chest pain and treat abnormal heart rhythms.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe a statin medication.
You also may need an anticoagulant medicine to help prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries.
Implantable medical devices
Probably the best-known of these is a pacemaker. The wires of this small, battery-powered device are inserted into heart tissue to help keep the heart beating in a regular rhythm.
Also inserted into heart tissue are the wires of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). An ICD keeps track of the heart’s rate and can deliver electrical shocks to bring the heart back to a normal rhythm.
A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a kind of mechanical pump that’s surgically implanted when a heart is too weak to work on its own. LVADs often are used to keep a heart going until a transplant can be found.
Procedures and surgery
If an artery to your heart is blocked by fatty plaque, which can hurt blood flow, your doctor may recommend either angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting to reopen the artery.
During angioplasty, a long flexible tube (catheter) is inserted through an artery or vein. At the tip of the catheter is a deflated balloon. The catheter is threaded up to the blockage. The balloon is then inflated, crushing the plaque against the artery wall and restoring blood flow.
Often a mesh tube called a stent is placed in the artery to help keep the artery open.
During coronary artery bypass grafting, also called open-heart surgery, a healthy vein or artery from another part of the body is used to reroute blood flow around the blockage and to the heart.
Sources: American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
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