Depending on the cause and severity of an individual’s case of heart disease, his or her cardiologist will create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs. This plan may consist of one of the following or a combination of a few of the following: medication, lifestyle changes, and catheter-assisted procedures and bypass surgery. Statin medications may be prescribed to patients to control or lower blood cholesterol levels in patients who do not see a significant cholesterol level change with lifestyle adjustments. Statins may even be prescribed as a preventative measure to people who are at an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. Doctors may use other medications in their treatment plans as well, such as medicines to lower blood pressure, prevent clotting, prevent/delay the need for a stent or surgery, or reduce the heart’s overall workload. The overarching goal of many of these is to prevent heart attacks and strokes, as well as relieving the symptoms of heart disease as a whole.
Making long-term, heart-healthy lifestyle changes are a very common method cardiologists may suggest to their patients with coronary heart disease. These changes can be very effective, but it must be noted that this requires focus and commitment from the patient to actually follow through with the new lifestyle. Some of the most common changes doctors may suggest are a healthier diet, stress management, routine exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and-- if applicable-- quitting smoking cigarettes.
The diet that would be recommended to a patient with heart disease has some general guidelines. For example, the patient should not eat much red meat, should avoid palm and coconut oils, and should limit sugar intake, mostly cutting out foods and beverages that are high in sugar. Sodium intake should be limited to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, and this limit may be even lower if the patient also has high blood pressure. Moreover, saturated and trans fats increase blood cholesterol levels and should thus be strictly limited and monitored. Saturated fats are frequently found in animal meats and fats and are considered the worst in terms of increasing cholesterol levels. Trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats, such as baked goods or margarine. Lastly, alcohol consumption should be limited to two drinks per day for males or one drink per day for females. Alcohol has many negative effects on overall health, such as empty calories that potentially can lead to weight gain, as well as increasing blood pressure and triglyceride levels (a fat in the blood). There are also guidelines for what the patient should be eating. For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered the “good” fats and can potentially lower blood cholesterol levels. They can be found in foods such as peanut butter, avocados, nuts, salmon, and tofu. Patients should also eat at least the daily recommendation of fruits, vegetables, and legumes; try to eat whole grain foods as opposed to processed, regular grains; choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products; and eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, at least twice a week.
Patients may also consider healthy stress-relieving activities and programs, as mental stress is often a trigger for heart attacks and
complications. This may include therapy, exercise, meditation, or a stress management program. Simply talking to friends and family in a calm setting about one’s issues and stresses may also help.
Generally, moderate aerobic exercise for about 2.5 hours per week or vigorous aerobic exercise for 1.25 hours per week has been shown to have many benefits for the heart. This includes any exercise that increases heart rate and oxygen intake, such as walking or jogging. Benefits include potential weight loss, decreasing blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure, decreasing “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps prevent heart disease.
These non-invasive techniques are usually attempted first to cure or lessen the effects of coronary heart disease. In cases where these techniques do not work to the extent necessary or the disease is particularly severe, surgical measures may need to be taken. The two most common are Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI, also known as angioplasty) and Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG), both of which treat blockages in coronary arteries. PCI is non-surgical and opens clogged arteries through the insertion of a flexible, narrow tube with an inflatable device on the end into the blood vessels.
This tube is then threaded until the device reaches the cholesterol blockage, at which time the device is inflated, compressing the cholesterol and plaque against the artery wall and restoring proper blood flow. A stent can also be inserted through the same
procedure. In this case, a mesh tube is inserted around the original narrow tube inserted, and once in tact, the first tube is removed, leaving just the mesh inside the artery wall. This prevents the formation of new blockages for up to years after the procedure. CABG, on the other hand, is a surgical procedure. Blood vessels from other areas of the body are connected to the blocked coronary artery in a way that it bypasses, or goes around, the blockage. This improves blood flow to the heart and can help improve the symptoms of CHD that a patient may be experiencing .