Treatments

Treatment for CAD can lower your risk of having a heart attack, as well as prevent an existing heart condition from worsening. Consult your doctor about medications to treat CAD risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and low blood flow. Surgical procedures to help restore blood flow to the heart are also recommended for some.

In addition to medical approaches to treating CAD, you can also take steps in your daily life to improve your heart health. Options you may discuss with your doctor include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking.

Medication

Medications are available to treat CAD and related conditions. As well, people who have had heart attacks will likely be prescribed medication that they will take for the rest of their lives. Your healthcare team will determine which medication or combinations are best for you.

The following are examples of types of medications prescribed for cardiac conditions:

  • Anticoagulants: Also called “blood thinners,” these drugs decrease the ability of the blood to clot (they don’t actually thin the blood, however). Anticoagulants can prevent clots from forming in the blood vessels or prevent existing clots from becoming larger. They may be prescribed to prevent stroke.
  • Antiplatelet Agents: These medications are prescribed for people who have had a heart attack, unstable angina, a stroke, or other cardiac conditions. They are used to prevent blood clots.
  • Angiotensin-converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: These medications are used to treat cardiovascular conditions including high blood pressure and heart failure. They work by expanding blood vessels and lowering levels of the chemical angiotensin II to allow the heart to work more efficiently.
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers: These drugs may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. They work by lowering levels of angiotensin II to keep it from affecting the heart and blood vessels, which keeps blood pressure from rising.
  • Beta Blockers: These medications are used to lower blood pressure, treat chest pain, and may be included in therapy for arrhythmias. Beta blockers are also prescribed to lower the risk of future heart attacks among patients who have had a heart attack. They work by slowing down the rate and force of the heartbeat, which also lowers blood pressure.
  • Diuretics: Diuretics increase urination in order to rid the body of excess fluid and sodium. They help lower blood pressure and can reduce edema, or swelling, from build-up of excess fluid in the body.
  • Vasodilators: Also known as nitrates, these medications are used to relieve angina, or chest pain. They relax the blood vessels and increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart and reduce its workload.
  • Statins: Statins are used to lower blood cholesterol levels, or, specifically, to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and raise “good” HDL levels.

Surgery

Surgery for heart disease and related conditions includes life-saving procedures performed in the event of a heart attack as well as procedures to treat and prevent other cardiovascular complications.

The following are examples of cardiac surgeries and procedures:

  • Angioplasty: This procedure is used to increase blood flow through a blocked artery. It can relieve chest pain and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Angioplasty involves special tubing, which is threaded up through the coronary artery. A deflated balloon is attached to the tubing; the balloon is inflated to expand the blocked areas and restore blood flow.
  • Atherectomy: This procedure is similar to angioplasty but uses a rotating shaver instead of a balloon. The shaver cuts away plaque from the artery to increase blood flow.
  • Stent Procedure: A stent is used during angioplasty. The stent itself is a wire mesh tube that props open the artery. Following angioplasty, the stent stays in the artery permanently.
  • Bypass Surgery: A bypass treats blocked arteries by creating news passages for blood to flow to the heart muscle. To do so, veins or arteries are taken from other parts of the body and used to reroute blood around the clogged artery. A bypass can relieve angina and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
  • Implantable Medical Devices: Devices that can be surgically implanted to treat cardiovascular conditions include:
    • Left Ventricular Assist Device—a battery-operated pump-type device that helps the heart pump blood when it can’t work effectively on its own
    • Pacemaker—a device that sends electrical impulses that help the heart beat at a regular rhythm; used when heartbeat is too fast, too slow, or irregular
    • Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator—a device that is implanted into the heart tissue; sends electrical shocks, detects the heart’s rhythm, and “paces” heart (restores normal rhythm as needed); can prevent sudden cardiac death in at-risk patients

Living with Heart Disease

Living with heart disease—and enjoying the best possible quality of life—will involve working with your healthcare team to make sure that you are getting appropriate treatment. As well, it’s important that you follow your doctor’s advice, take medications as prescribed, and make healthy lifestyle choices that will protect your heart health and overall well-being. Understanding your risks and how to manage them can help you enjoy long-term health.

If you’ve had a heart attack, work with your healthcare team to take steps to prevent another heart attack and other related conditions such as a stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease. Talk with your doctor about programs designed to help you make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Steps may include medication, diet, regular exercise, stopping smoking, and managing stress. Your doctor may also recommend that you make changes in your everyday activities; this may involve work, travel, sex, and exercise.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

American Heart Association

American Dietetic Association

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Sources

Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/. Accessed July 2010.

The American Heart Association. www.heart.org. Accessed July 2010.

Heart Health and Diet. American Dietetic Association Web site. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6820. Accessed July 2010.