Technology is advancing rapidly, across almost every industry. And one of the biggest examples is in health care. In fact, thanks to advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of common cardiovascular conditions, deaths caused by heart disease have declined by 50 percent over the past 35 years. Still, nearly half of today’s American adults are affected by coronary artery disease (a buildup of plaque in the arteries that feed the heart). And with America’s aging population, the demand for innovations in heart disease diagnosis, management and treatment are greater than ever.
“Cardiology is such an exciting field in medicine because it continues to evolve as our understanding of heart and vascular disease expands. There have been many innovations and advancements in a variety of different areas in cardiology, but especially in understanding and managing coronary artery disease,” said Ammar Habib, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Interventional Cardiology, AdventHealth Medical Group.
Of course, one key to avoiding heart failure is to get diagnosed and start treatment early. And today’s cardiologists have a wealth of diagnostic tools.
“We now have tools that allow us to visualize the interior of a blood vessel using sound wave technology called intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) or light technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT). This often allows us to understand the plaque burden and other important characteristics of a blockage at the microscopic level,” said Habib.
When someone is diagnosed with narrowing arteries, small, mesh tubes called “stents” are often used to keep the heart supplied with oxygen-rich blood. In the more than three decades since stents were invented, significant improvements have been made.
“We now have stents that are coated with an anti-inflammatory drug that has been shown to provide significantly improved outcomes when compared to older, bare metal stents. The medication is slowly released to help prevent future plaque buildup and re-narrowing of the blood vessel,” said Habib.
Minimally invasive procedures and more
Now, in many cases for patients with serious coronary disease, cardiologists are able to repair the heart without needing to perform open-chest procedures that cut through the breastbone and leave a long incision scar.
For example, for aortic valve replacement patients who are at risk of complications from open-heart surgery, there’s a newer minimally invasive procedure called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR).
"TAVR allows for implantation of a prosthetic valve without the need for a large chest incision or open-heart operation. Instead, special catheters and x-ray imaging are used to allow a prosthetic valve to be placed using your vessels without needing surgery,” said Habib.
Prevention is still the best medicine
It’s important to focus on treatments and management strategies for heart disease. But it may be even more important to understand how to prevent it. While there are many risk factors that we can’t change – like our age, gender and family history, there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to avoid serious complications and slow the progression of coronary artery disease.
“It is important to screen for high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol), high blood pressure and diabetes, and make sure these risk factors are managed with the help of your physician. It’s important to stop smoking and limit alcohol use. Obesity is also an important risk factor, and strategies to lose weight need to be considered. Finally, it is important to get a good quality of sleep, manage stress and get regular health screenings,” said Habib.
AdventHealth offers HEARTaware, a free, online heart disease risk assessment designed to help you identify your risk factors for developing heart disease. At the end of the free assessment, you can download a summary of your results and share them with your primary care physician, if you choose.