This week we were reminded of the importance of proactive health measures, as former President George W. Bush underwent a heart procedure Tuesday in Texas to insert a stent following a routine physical and cardiac evaluation. Although the extent to which the artery was blocked or if President Bush was experiencing any symptoms has not been reported, stents are usually indicated when the blockage exceeds 75 percent. Stents are inserted to keep the artery open and blood flowing. Stent procedures can help prevent the need for heart surgery and help prevent heart attacks.
“I can relate to President Bush because I also had a preventative cardiac evaluation to assess my risk of a heart attack,” adds Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Wayne Leimbach. “I do not have any symptoms of heart disease, but I do have risk factors. I have family history and high cholesterol, which I treat.”
More than one million people have a heart attack every year. For three out of four of those people, they experience symptoms, like chest pain or shortness of breath. However, for one out of four people, their first sign is the heart attack itself and of these patients, as many as one-third die before they get to the hospital. “They don’t get that chance,” says Dr. Leimbach of treatment like the stent procedure President Bush had this week. “He could have been one of that one in four whose first symptom was the heart attack.”
Diagnosing Heart Disease Early
There are a variety of methods to diagnosis heart disease. As technology and imaging continue to improve, less-invasive options like the cardiac CT scan gives providers a greater than 95 percent sensitivity of detecting heart disease. For patients experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, the scan is a fast, painless option. “Cardiac CT is the most reliable noninvasive test to show that the person does not have significant coronary artery blockage," explains cardiac CT program director Dr. Victor Cheng.
This summer, Oklahoma Heart Institute announced an opportunity for patients without a referral from a cardiologist or insurance approval to have a cardiac CT scan in a new, ultrafast scanner. It was an opportunity to find or rule out heart disease for anyone who may or may not have experienced symptoms. Local radio host, Rick Couri, took advantage of it and shared his experience with us. He was thankful to leave with the peace of mind that he does not have heart disease. If he did have heart disease, it would have been seen on the CT angiogram.
Dr. Leimbach says knowing your risk of heart disease is the first line of defense when it comes to preventing heart disease. Managing your risks can prevent a major event from happening. It is why he also chose to have a cardiac CT scan done during the promotion. “I wanted to know - am I at risk for the number one cause of death?” he says.
The CT angiogram shows that I have normal coronary arteries and my radiation exposure was equal to half that of a mammogram,” he says. “Is that of value? It’s an incredible relief. When you know that, you know everything you are doing is working. Prevention does work. Now when I have heart burn, I’ll know its heart burn and won’t have to worry about it.”
However, for patients in which heart disease is discovered, Dr. Leimbach says it is an opportunity to increase risk factor modifications and get the treatment needed before there is a major problem.
Future of Cardiology
Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., yet as many as 80 percent of heart attacks are preventable. The future of cardiology is prevention to detect the onset of heart disease as early as possible to treat as less-invasively as possible. Simple changes like lifestyle modifications including quitting smoking, proper diet, regular exercise and treating blood pressure, blood choleterol and blood sugar levels can be the best defense early in life. Minimally invasive methodology to detect and treat heart disease have dramatically improved.
Talk with your doctor and understand your risk of heart disease. Take the steps today to prevent a heart attack or stroke from altering the course of your life.
“This just took away a huge unknown for me that I don’t have to worry about having a heart attack,” shares Dr. Leimbach.