A maintenance plan for your heart
The heart is akin to a house’s plumbing and electrical systems. Occasionally, the wiring goes haywire or the pipes get clogged and we need to call in the experts. In cardiology, those experts are known as electrophysiologists and interventional cardiologists.
“Think of the electrophysiologist as your heart’s electrician and an interventional cardiologist as the plumber,” says JoAnna English, M.D., cardiologist with The Ohio Heart and Vascular Center, a physician practice of The Christ Hospital. “A general cardiologist will be the first in line to figure out if you’re having an electrical or plumbing problem, and refer you to one of these specialists.”
The Heart’s Electrician
Electrical impulses in our heart keep them pumping rhythmically to distribute blood throughout our body. When these impulses misfire, electrophysiologists can help. “These subspecialists can treat and manage arrhythmias and other heart rate and rhythm disorders,” Dr. English explains.
Cardiac arrhythmias are the most common electrical problem, which cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Heart disease, high blood pressure and valve abnormalities can all trigger arrhythmias. Though some arrhythmias produce no symptoms, the signs can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain. An electrophysiologist will use electrocardiograms, ultrasound, 24-hour heart monitor or electrophysiologic study to diagnose and treat the condition.
Maintenance plan: In addition to prescribing medication, electrophysiologists can install devices such as cardioverter defibrillators, pacemakers and biventricular pacemakers, which provide treatment for fatal heart arrhythmias, slow heart rhythms and heart failure. Catheter ablation can also be used to destroy the abnormal heart tissue causing an arrhythmia.
The Heart’s Plumber
The heart is an intricate system of chambers, valves and arteries. The chambers of the heart push blood forward so that it can circulate throughout our body. If the arteries of the heart do not supply blood to the heart muscle due to severe blockages, the system malfunctions and a person could suffer from a heart attack, electrical disturbances and possible heart failure. An interventional cardiologist aims to find solutions to fix the blockages before a more serious event, like a heart attack, occurs.
Cardiologists specialize in treating and preventing high blood pressure, narrowed, hardened or blocked arteries (arthrosclerosis), valvular disease and heart failure through medication or recommending lifestyle changes. Simple screenings can help physicians gauge a person’s heart health. Electrocardiograms, ultrasounds, stress tests and cardiac catheterization may be required to diagnose plumbing problems in the heart, depending on a person’s symptoms.
Maintenance plan: Preventing high blood pressure and plaque build up with a heart-healthy lifestyle is the first step in keeping the pipes in good condition. However, when that’s not enough, your doctor might want to explore medication and surgical interventions, including angioplasty, heart valve repair/replacement and bypass procedures.
Restore heart maintenance
Routine maintenance is the best way to prevent bigger heart issues. Quit smoking, eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, maintain a healthy weight and exercise every day to help keep your heart in top shape. You should also meet with your physician each year for a routine heart-health screening to assess your risk.
“If you wait until you have a heart condition, the damage is already done,” Dr. English says. “If you know your risk factors, you can modify them, and that can be a great first step in taking care of your heart as you age and possibly preventing future problems.”
To find out if you’re due for a heart-health screening, or for more information, call 877-904-4YOU.