In the past, suffering a heart attack or being diagnosed with heart disease meant a limited lifestyle – or worse, a limited life span. Today, however, through groundbreaking research and advancements in technology, patients have the possibility of overcoming these heart issues and achieving a full and active lifestyle.
“We used to say that once the heart was damaged, it couldn’t get better,” says Dr. Wayne Leimbach, a cardiologist at Tulsa’s Oklahoma Heart Institute. “Now we know that’s not true. Patients can reverse the effects from a heart attack and heart disease, but it’s a slow process that can range from six months to several years.”
He says that the field of cardiology has experienced great progress. For example, the Oklahoma Heart Institute now offers several life-saving surgical procedures to patients that weren’t available even five years ago.
“I have had patients who have participated in cardiac rehabilitation say they feel better and stronger today than before they had their heart attack.”
Heart disease refers to several conditions that involve the buildup of plaque along the walls of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. As this plaque builds up, it can severely slow blood flow to the heart. If the plaque breaks away, it can form a blood clot, block blood flow and cause a heart attack. When the heart muscle is deprived of the oxygen it needs to survive, the result can be heart damage.
Scarring will occur where the heart is damaged, and because scar tissue doesn’t contract, the heart’s pumping ability can be compromised.
Leimbach says the keys to recovery can include prescription regimens that help regulate blood pressure, such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors, but cardiac rehabilitation also plays a vital role in helping anyone improve. He emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle: taking preventable steps like exercising, not smoking and keeping blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels low.
“When you are physically fit, your body uses the oxygen in your blood more efficiently. This means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to meet your body’s demands,” he says. “I have had patients who have participated in cardiac rehabilitation say they feel better and stronger today than before they had their heart attack.”
If you don’t think you could be at risk for a heart issue, consider these alarming statistics from the American Heart Association. Every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. experiences a heart attack, and heart disease remains the nation’s No. 1 cause of death.
Dr. Philip B. Adamson, a cardiologist and director of the Heart Failure Institute of the Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, predominately deals with the end stages of heart disease and says that previously, heart failure was considered unavoidable. However, through a variety of proven therapies and state-of-the-art medical procedures, many patients have the chance to get their lives back.
“The heart muscle is amazing,” says Adamson. “We have learned that when heart arteries are blocked, the heart muscle will quit squeezing in that zone, and in some cases, the muscle will essentially go into hibernation. We can then work to reduce the amount of scarring in that area and help return the muscle to its normal function.”
Most recently, Adamson has been working on a life-changing development for heart failure patients. In June, the Oklahoma Heart Hospital and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center implanted the first and only FDA-approved heart failure monitoring device, shown in studies to significantly reduce hospital admissions when used by physicians to manage heart failure. Patients suffering from heart failure are frequently hospitalized, have a reduced quality of life and face a higher risk of death.
“The technology is remarkable and can serve as a springboard for future applications to other diseases,” says Adamson. “I think it’s going to change the way we look at and manage the disease.”