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Conditions

Find answers to frequently asked questions about a variety of health conditions, like heart attack, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation.

  • How are heart attacks treated?
  • Early treatment for a heart attack can greatly increase chances of survival and minimize permanent damage to the heart. Immediate treatment can include medicine, a minimally invasive procedure called angioplasty or surgery (coronary artery bypass grafting).
  • How can I prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack are at high risk for having a future heart attack. After suffering a heart attack, it’s important to work with your doctor to reduce risk with any combination of therapies, such as cardiac rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and/or medication.
  • How can you increase chances of survival during a heart attack?
  • When someone is having a heart attack, recognizing signs and symptoms immediately is key. Major warning signs include chest pain, pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and cold sweats. Calling 911 and seeking immediate medical attention at the first signs of a heart attack can significantly improve chances of survival.
  • Is depression common among heart patients?
  • Yes, depression is relatively common among patients living with heart disease. Not only has depression been linked to heart disease, patients living with depression often have worse outcomes than individuals without this condition. If you’re worried that you might suffer from depression, it’s important to talk with your doctor to better understand the condition and possible treatments.
  • How do I know if I have depression?
  • Symptoms of depression may include difficulty concentrating, feeling sad or irritable, loss of appetite, loss of interest in everyday activities and trouble sleeping. However, depression affects each person differently so symptoms can vary. If you feel depressed or are concerned about depression, make an appointment to see your doctor.
  • How can I lower my blood pressure through diet?
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure. Limiting salt intake and eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, like with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, can help significantly lower blood pressure.

  • How is heart valve disease treated?
  • Depending on how severe heart valve disease is, treatment options may vary. Some patients with minor valve disease may not need any treatment. However, patients with more severe disease may require medication, medical procedures or surgery to correct their condition.
  • What is a ventricular septal defect?
  • A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is an opening in the wall that divides the lower chambers of the heart. VSD is usually diagnosed at birth and if left untreated, can cause lung disease as children get older.
  • What is d-TGA (dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries)?
  • D-TGA is a rare heart defect that affects roughly 4,000 babies born in the United States each year. When a baby is born with d-TGA, the two main arteries that carry blood out of the heart are reversed. Most babies born with d-TGA require surgery soon after birth to fix the reversed arteries and restore normal blood flow to the rest of the body.
  • How common are heart defects?
  • Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting roughly 1% of all births in the United States each year.
  • Could I have a heart condition because I have sudden throbbing pain in my jaw accompanied by very elevated blood pressure and racing pulse?
  • Chest pressure or pain radiating to the jaw is one of the classic symptoms of the heart not getting enough blood flow, which happens during a heart attack or when patients have chronic, severe blockages in the blood vessels supplying the heart. Often, these symptoms may also radiate to the left arm, and may go together with shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, or sweating. However, different people may experience different symptoms. Women, elderly patients, and those with diabetes are thought to be more likely to have "atypical" symptoms, such as palpitations ("heart racing"), or weakness/fatigue. Also, other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, and in some patients, stress or anxiety might also make you feel these symptoms.

    For all these reasons, it is best to discuss these symptoms with a doctor who knows you, so you can decide together on what other tests or treatment might be warranted. However, for patients concerned about having a heart attack, we recommend calling 911 for transport to the hospital because that is the safest approach. For more information about warning signs of heart attacks, check out this CardioSmart page about chest pain.

    Best regards,

    Siqin Ye, MD, MS

  • My father recently has had 3 stents placed in his heart and an ICD implanted. He now has sleep apnea. What are the treatment options for sleep apnea?
  • How was the sleep apnea diagnosed? We would recommend a formal sleep study in order to determine the extent of the sleep apnea. Based on those results, the pulmonary physicians will decide if the sleep apnea needs to be addressed.

    Most often, options for treatment of sleep apnea would target the cause of the sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by airway obstruction. Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain does not correctly signal the respiratory muscles to breathe. Risks for sleep apnea include: Male sex, overweight, large tonsils/soft tissue, small jaw, large neck, GERD, nasal obstruction (like a deviated septum).

    If the diagnosis is obstructive sleep apnea, treatment would focus on reducing the cause: weight loss, tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, GERD treatment. Treatment for OSA would be CPAP (A machine to help keep the airway open) or a mouth device.

    Surgery can be performed on the jaw, soft tissue, or nasal septum if warranted, but most would try the less invasive treatments first.

    Best regards,

    Lynn Peng, MD, FACC
    Associate Director, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory
    Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
    Stanford Medical Center

     

  • What is coronary artery calcification?
  • Coronary artery calcification (CAC) is the buildup of calcium in the arteries, which can cause blood vessels to narrow and lead to the development of heart disease.
  • What is cognitive decline?
  • Cognitive decline involves problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment. Although some decline in cognitive ability is natural as we age, some individuals may experience greater than normal age-related changes, which may be a sign of dementia.
  • What are symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)?
  • Symptoms of FH include fatty skin deposits on or around the hands, elbows, knees, ankles and the eyes, and cholesterol deposits on the eyelids. Individuals with FH may also experience chest pain or other signs of heart disease, even at a young age.
  • How is familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) diagnosed?
  • FH is typically diagnosed through blood tests that measure cholesterol levels, a physical examination and a review of family medical history. Genetic tests may also be used to diagnose FH. Once FH is diagnosed, the goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • What is mitral valve regurgitation?
  • Mitral valve regurgitation means that one of the valves in your heart—the mitral valve—is letting blood leak backward into the heart.

    Heart valves work like one-way gates, helping blood flow in one direction between heart chambers or in and out of the heart. The mitral valve is on the left side of your heart. It lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber. When the mitral valve is damaged—for example, by an infection—it may no longer close tightly. This lets blood leak backward, or regurgitate, into the upper chamber. Your heart has to work harder to pump this extra blood. Small leaks are usually not a problem. But more severe cases weaken the heart over time and can lead to heart failure.

  • What causes mitral valve regurgitation?
  • There are two forms of mitral valve regurgitation: chronic and acute.

    • Chronic mitral valve regurgitation, the most common type, develops slowly. Many people with this problem may have a valve that is prone to wear and tear. As the person gets older, the valve gets weak and no longer closes tightly. Other causes include heart failure, rheumatic fever, congenital heart disease, a calcium buildup in the valve, and other heart problems.
    • Acute mitral valve regurgitation develops quickly and can be life-threatening. It happens when the valve or nearby tissue ruptures suddenly. Instead of a slow leak, blood builds up quickly in the left side of the heart. Your heart doesn't have time to adjust to this sudden buildup of blood the way it does with the slow buildup of blood in chronic regurgitation. Common causes of acute regurgitation are heart attack and a heart infection called endocarditis.
  • How are congenital heart defects treated?
  • If you or your child have a heart defect, it can be very scary. But there are a number of treatment options depending on the type of defect and the symptoms. It’s important to find a cardiologist who specializes in congenital heart defects and get support. Learn more about treatment.

  • What are congenital heart defects?
  • “Congenital” means present from birth. So, congenital heart defects refers to a number of different conditions that can occur when a baby’s heart is forming or at birth. As a result, the heart—or the major vessels in and around the heart—may not develop or work the way they should.

    Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. Roughly 8 of every 1,000 babies are born with some sort of structural defect in their hearts. These problems cause more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects. Some examples are atrial septal defect, coarctation of the aorta, and aortic stenosis.

    But, there is good news. More babies are surviving than ever before thanks to advances in treating and correcting many of these problems. Although most defects are found during pregnancy by ultrasound or in early childhood, some defects aren’t discovered until adulthood. About 1 million adults are living with congenital heart disease.

  • What are the symptoms of aortic stenosis?
  • Aortic valve stenosis is a slow process. For many years, even decades, you will not feel any symptoms. But at some point, the valve will likely become so narrow (often one-fourth of its normal size) that you start having problems. Symptoms are often brought on by exercise, when the heart has to work harder.

    As aortic valve stenosis gets worse, you may have symptoms such as:

    • Chest pain or pressure (angina). You may have a heavy, tight feeling in your chest.
    • Feeling dizzy or faint.
    • Feeling tired and being short of breath.
    • A feeling that your heart is pounding, racing, or beating unevenly (palpitations).

    If you start to notice any of these symptoms, let your doctor know right away. If you have symptoms, you need treatment. By the time you have symptoms, your condition probably is serious. If you have symptoms, you also have a high risk of sudden death.

  • What is sleep-disordered breathing?
  • Sleep-disordered breathing describes a group of disorders characterized by involuntary breathing cessation during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of disorder and can increase risk for conditions such as high blood pressureheart disease and stroke.
  • What is pulmonary arterial hypertension?
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a form of pulmonary hypertension in which the arteries in the lungs constrict abnormally. PAH causes the heart to work faster and increases blood pressure within the lungs. PAH typically worsens over time and can be life-threatening, as it puts added strain on the heart.
  • What is Tetralogy of Fallot?
  • Tetralogy of Fallot is a rare type of congenital heart defect that affects roughly one in 3,500 births a year in the United States. This type of defect keeps the body from getting the oxygen-rich blood it needs and can cause infants and children to have blue-tinged skin. Tetralogy of Fallot is usually diagnosed during infancy or soon after, but sometimes it’s not detected until later in life.
  • How many people have congenital heart disease?
  • Every year, 35,000 babies are born with congenital heart disease in the United States. It’s estimated that 90% of children who are born with a heart defect now survive well into adulthood and there are currently more than 1 million U.S. adults living with congenital heart disease.

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