Modern Advances to Treat Heart Disease
Modern medical knowledge is constantly improving as scientists work to develop a better understanding of the intricate systems at work in our bodies. This includes how our hearts function and the effect heart disease has on our bodies.
As we learn more about the processes that ensure our hearts function properly, heart disease treatments improve. This means the quality of life and longevity for people who have heart disease improves as well.
A Better Understanding of Heart Disease
Many of the treatments used to counteract the effects of heart disease today would be impossible without our modern understanding of the heart.
For example, because we know that restricted blood flow is a result of narrowed or blocked arteries, we can use devices like cardiac stents to reopen these arteries. Pacemakers and defibrillators are the results of the improved understanding of electrical physiology of the heart.
New advancements are being made every day, led by institutions like the American Heart Association with thousands of studies all over the world.
Developments in Heart Disease Treatment Methods
As knowledge and understanding of heart disease continue to improve, so do the methods used to diagnose and treat the condition.
Early heart disease treatments were limited to mainly lifestyle changes and some medications. While these methods can be effective for many people and are still used today, they are less effective in severe cases of heart disease.
Now that scientists and researchers better understand the mechanics of heart disease and its complications, they have helped create new and improved heart disease treatment methods. Many of these methods involve the surgical implantation of devices near the heart that help to control its rhythm and support its regular function.
Heart disease leads to plaque buildup in your arteries, which narrows them and prevents regular blood flow. To treat this, cardiologists can insert a cardiac stent inside a blocked artery in a minimally invasive procedure known as coronary stenting.
A cardiac stent is an expandable metal mesh coil that’s small enough to travel through an artery. The stent is inserted with a balloon that expands when it reaches the blocked or narrowed section. The stent expands to keep the artery stretched wide enough for regular blood flow, and the stent stays in place, keeping the artery open after the balloon is deflated.
Coronary angiograms are emergently performed at the time an acute heart attack occurs, and the cardiologist will likely place a cardiac stent even if you have only one or two blocked arteries. Sometimes, there are several coronary arteries that are blocked, which requires more invasive procedures to treat.
Normally, your heart serves as its own pacemaker. The sinoatrial (SA) node controls the rhythm of your heartbeats with regular electrical pulses that instruct the heart to contract and relax.
Heart disease can interfere with this regular rhythm. You may experience heart rhythm disturbances known as arrhythmias or palpitations, which can speed up or slow down your heartbeats. Any disturbance can interfere with how efficient your heart is at maintaining good circulation throughout your body.
To correct this issue, your doctor may suggest you undergo surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. The pacemaker monitors the rhythm of your heartbeats for irregularities and creates its own electrical impulses that restore the regular rhythm of your heart.
If you are at a high risk of experiencing cardiac arrest, you may need an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). During cardiac arrest, your heart stops pumping effectively, and it may stop altogether, suddenly cutting off blood flow completely. This is life-threatening if you cannot get emergency medical treatment right away.
An ICD monitors for irregularities in the heart’s rhythm, specifically in the ventricles. If you experience ventricular arrhythmia, the ICD will deliver small electric signals to restore the heart’s regular rhythm. If this arrhythmia persists, it will deliver a large shock similar to a regular defibrillator to jumpstart the heart’s regular rhythm once again.
Note that sometimes these shocks can be painful, but they can also save your life. Some newer ICDs also serve the same function as pacemakers, stimulating heartbeats when your heart rate becomes too slow.
While heart disease treatments have come a long way, they are by no means perfect. You may have complications from the surgery needed to implant a pacemaker or defibrillator, and you may have to avoid things that could interfere with these devices, such as metal detectors and MRI machines.
Despite this, these are still significant improvements in how we handle heart disease. The more we continue to learn about the condition, the better equipped we will be to treat it safely and effectively.