The average human heart pumps roughly 2,000 gallons of blood per day through an intricate network of arteries, veins and capillaries that help make up the cardiovascular system. Through these blood vessels this organ system transports nutrients, oxygen and hormones as well as waste to and from cells throughout the body.
In fact, a human body has nearly 100,000 miles of blood vessels. By definition, vascular disease is an abnormal condition of blood vessels. Because blood vessels travel the entire body, vascular disease can present itself anywhere and cause serious problems that may even be fatal.
What is Vascular Disease?
Dr. John Fry of the Heart and Vascular Center at Watauga Medical Center.
There are dozens of vascular diseases, but some of the most common are Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) and stroke, which account for 140,000 deaths each year.
Although vascular diseases may strike without warning, according to Dr. Fry, “the same risk factors associated with heart disease are also important with vascular disease and include poor diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and most importantly tobacco smoking.”
There are also risk factors for vascular diseases that cannot be changed like age and genetics. For patients experiencing symptoms or who are concerned they may be at risk for a vascular disease, Dr. Fry advises talking to their provider or calling the Heart and Vascular Center for more information and consultation.
Fry says, “the diagnosis can be confirmed most often using simple non-invasive tests. We have those available at Watauga Medical Center. Treatment can be as easy as lifestyle changes and medication. For others, simple outpatient, minimally-invasive techniques are available.”
Vascular Services in the High Country
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System offers several options for Vascular Services in the High Country. Vascular Services are available through the Heart and Vascular Center; Vein Services and Wound Care Services at Watauga Surgical Group; and The Rehabilitation Center. Some of these treatments include:
Lalit K. Vadlamani, MD, is an interventional cardiologist at Watauga Medical Center.
Reports of heart attacks have declined by 40 percent worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that worries Dr. Lalit Vadlamani, Cardiovascular Interventionist at the new Heart & Vascular Center of Watauga Medical Center. But that doesn’t mean heart attacks themselves are not happening.
Says Vadlamani, “Heart attacks are not elective. They either happen or they don’t. There is no choice, which is why this statistic about a worldwide decline is so surprisingly startling. One would think that heart attacks would be on the rise, with all of this stress and anxiety we are currently experiencing in our daily lives.”
According to Vadlamani, chronic total obstruction (CTO) is a particularly concerning type of heart attack, often called a widow-maker. “With this type of heart attack there is a blockage of the left anterior descending artery. If left untreated, it could lead to death, or serious damage to the heart,” he said.
Seeking cardiac care is safe
Vadlamani continues, “The chances that you will die of a heart attack are actually much higher than dying from COVID-19. I travel extensively for my job, and hospitals nationwide have taken the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of patients being infected from COVID. The scenario has changed quite a bit, and the Emergency Departments no longer look the way they did in the past when they were crowded with sick people coughing and sneezing.
Remember that heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the U.S., and that risk of a full-blown heart attack outweighs the risk of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital. In fact, in Dr. Vadlamani’s opinion, the chances of contracting COVID from someone at the grocery store are probably higher than at the hospital.
He concludes, “Both COVID-19 and heart disease share multiple symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, and pain that radiates to other areas (such as the jaw, back or down the arm.) So please do not ignore any of these symptoms, as time is of the essence with any heart-related issue. You must act quickly and call 9-1-1 if you are unable to get yourself to the emergency room. The longer you wait or postpone it, the worse your outcome will be.”
One in twenty American adults has peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, a narrowing of the blood vessels caused by cholesterol plaque buildup. Several different risk factors contribute to the development of PAD:
high blood pressure
A family history of PAD also increases one’s risk. Those with PAD may experience pain in the calf muscle or buttock with walking, especially brisk walking or walking uphill. Some patients may develop skin discoloration of the toes or feet and even develop ulcerations and wounds that are slow to heal.
PAD is a slow-burning emergency and an indication of vascular disease throughout the rest of the body.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Patients with Peripheral Arterial Disease have a 7x increased risk of stroke and heart attack and may suffer limb loss due to serious a skin infection called gangrene. Yet many with PAD have no knowledge of having the disease. Learn more:” quote=”Patients with PAD have a seven-times increased risk of stroke and heart attack and may suffer limb loss due to serious a skin infection called gangrene. Yet many with PAD have no knowledge of having the disease.”]
Patients with PAD have a seven-times increased risk of stroke and heart attack and may suffer limb loss due to serious a skin infection called gangrene. Yet many with PAD have no knowledge of having the disease and go undiagnosed as symptoms may be attributed to other causes such as joint pain or back disease.
Alarmingly, many with the disease have no symptoms at all. Studies have shown that the disease may be overlooked even if a patient is followed by a cardiovascular specialist.
Diagnosing PAD involves a noninvasive test called an ankle-brachial index or ABI in which a reading is taken of the arms and the legs using a standard blood pressure cuff and the ratio of these readings is used to assess blood flow to the lower extremities (legs and feet). A provider may also recommend more advanced imaging such as Magnetic Resonance (MR) or Computed Tomography (CT) scans.
Once diagnosed, patients are treated according to the severity of their symptoms and care is also focused on the prevention of future events. Patients may be started on medications in conjunction with a walking program to improve their symptoms. If medicine and lifestyle intervention are unsuccessful or if a patient’s lower extremity is in jeopardy, a procedure to improve the circulation may be indicated.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a slow-burning emergency and an indication of vascular disease throughout the rest of the body. Learn more about risk factors and symptoms: ” quote=”Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a slow-burning emergency and an indication of vascular disease throughout the rest of the body.”]
Treatments for PAD
There are several minimally invasive procedures that can improve the blood flow to the lower extremities. These so-called “endovascular” procedures are done under fluoroscopic (a type of X-ray) guidance and utilize small medical tubes called catheters to deliver therapy. A small balloon may be threaded into the blockage and used to dilate the vessel, called angioplasty. New technology allows these balloons to deliver medication to the blockage to prevent vessel re-narrowing after the procedure.
In a similar way, small metal-alloy tubes called stents can also be used to expand the blockage from within and also may have medication coating to keep the vessel open. These minimally invasive procedures often allow the patient to be treated and sent home on the same day. If a patient is not a candidate for an endovascular approach, a more traditional open surgery called surgical bypass may be required.
Living with PAD
All patients with PAD should have their medications adjusted to prevent heart attack and stroke—the major health threats to those with this disease.
Taking daily aspirin and cholesterol-lowering medications can dramatically reduce the incidence of serious health events.
Blood pressure and blood sugar levels for diabetic patients need to be strictly controlled.
Patients with PAD should exercise caution with skin and nail care. The skin of the feet should be kept clean and moisturized to prevent cracking and infection. Frequently, podiatrists are consulted for routine care so as to prevent inadvertent injury during nail trimming.
Finally, it is absolutely critical that PAD patients quit smoking.
Accurate diagnosis of PAD is important as it allows for comprehensive changes to both lifestyle and medications which can save lives. New technologies are available which help to restore circulation in those affected. Early recognition of PAD is essential to halting this insidious and sometimes silent disease.
Do you have risk factors or symptoms of PAD?
The Heart & Vascular Center can help. Schedule an appointment with one of our highly skilled providers today.
From chocolates to festive decor, you can’t go anywhere during the month of February without seeing hearts. But just because you can’t see your heart as easily as the Hallmark cards lining the stores right now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some much-needed attention. It’s the only one you have, and we at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System want yours ticking for a very long time.
In celebration of Heart Health Awareness month, here are three easy ways to make sure your heart is getting the love it deserves:
Eat a Healthy Diet
Click to enlarge
Give your body the fuel it craves most. According to the CDC, increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting the amount of sodium and processed or fried foods can help you avoid heart disease.
Need inspiration to kick start a love of heart-healthy foods? The Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center offers nutritional cooking classes to its members for $10 a class. Enjoy a hands-on experience learning to prepare delicious food combinations that are sure to give your heart the boost it needs. Taught by the Wellness Center’s on-staff nutritionist, Heather Casey, the classes focus on practical recipes that “can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle.”
Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Click to enlarge
We all know we need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight and functioning body, but how much actually makes a difference? The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week. This could be as simple as a brisk walk or bike ride on the Greenway once the weather finally thaws or signing up for a water aerobics class or personal training at The Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center.
Apprehensive to join a gym and don’t know where to start? Our Thrive program offers supervised training and instruction for participants to achieve their personal health goals. There are currently three tracks that are tailored to your needs: weight loss, cardiopulmonary, and oncology.
Click here to find out more and download the referral form for your healthcare provider.
Listen to Your Heart
Click to enlarge
While living a healthy lifestyle is integral in maintaining a functional and thriving heart, it’s also important to be active about what your body is telling you. Know the signs of a heart attack and be proactive about seeking help when you know you feel “off.” According to The American Heart Association, signs to look for include discomfort in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. The sensation can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
For those aspiring for better health, a lower resting heart rate is typically one of the most common goals. But what happens when your heart starts beating too slowly?
Fatigue, lightheadedness, and confusion are all symptoms of a heart that’s working inefficiently and may be in need of a pacemaker. Used to regulate the rhythm of the heart in both speed and frequency, pacemakers weigh anywhere between 25 to 35 grams and are used in patients with slower heartbeats around 40 or 50 beats per minute or less.
This tiny device can make a huge improvement in your life if your doctor thinks you’re a candidate for the treatment. Here are four things you should know about this life-altering device:
1. Pacemakers can improve your quality of life
Since the 1950s, pacemakers have been used to improve the overall quality and longevity of life in many heart patients. According to Livestrong.org, pacemakers even made an impact on mortality, reducing death rates by 22 percent and hospitalizations by 37 percent. Other studies found that pacemaker recipients have reported significantly more energy and overall feel happier in their everyday activities.
2. Pacemakers can be disrupted by external forces.
Regardless of whether your pacemaker is surgically implanted or an external temporary one, it uses battery-operated power to send electrical impulses to your heart. Patients need to be aware of their surroundings to avoid risk of interference. According to The American Heart Association, devices like metal detectors and even anti-theft systems at the entrance of businesses can cause disturbances. When near these kinds of technology, it’s important to not linger and move quickly through the detectors or entrances. Headphones too can cause issues and should be kept away from your pacemaker, particularly avoiding being stored in a shirt pocket above your heart.
3. Pacemakers are one of the most common reasons for medical ID jewelry.
When you’re in a scary situation and need medical attention fast, a piece of medical ID jewelry could be a lifesaver. If something were to go wrong with your pacemaker, your bracelet or necklace could help emergency medical personnel know your current heart conditions faster, which leads to quicker life-saving treatments and safer choices for your care. And thanks to the era of online shopping, there are tons of styles to choose from to make this important piece of fashion more fun.
4. Pacemakers don’t last forever.
Thanks to long-lasting batteries, a pacemaker can last between five to 10 years. However, it is essential to have regular checks to ensure your pacemaker is working properly and being as effective as possible for you to live your best, healthiest life. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System offers high quality cardiovascular services equipped with the staff and technology to help you with your pacemaker needs. Whether you’re about to start your pacemaker journey or you’re looking for ongoing care, you can trust us with your whole heart.
Atrial Fibrillation is a common condition where the heart beats irregularly and causes inefficient blood flow. Whether your doctor recently discussed your symptoms and diagnosis with you or you suspect you may have this arrhythmia, here are five things you may not be aware of when it comes to AFib and how it can affect you.
Anyone Could Have It
While it’s more common in people over 60, AFib can occur in anyone at any time and any age. According to the CDC, an estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib. There are some factors that can increase your likelihood of developing the condition, such as obesity and diabetes, but regardless, it’s important to know the signs. If you feel an off-kilter fluttering in your chest, it may be time to get checked out by your doctor.
Alcohol and Caffeine Could Be a Factor
While unwinding is good for the soul, too much can be detrimental to the heart. According to AFibMatters.org, too much caffeine could raise one’s blood pressure and increase heart rate, triggering the condition. However, with moderation, even those diagnosed with AFib can enjoy two to three daily cups of coffee and an occasional drink as long as alcohol consumption is kept between two to three units a day. Two to three days a week should also be completely alcohol free.
AFib Increases Risk of Stroke
Click to enlarge
Because AFib causes the heart to beat irregularly, those who have the condition could potentially have blood pool in the atria since it’s not efficiently being pumped between ventricles. This means a blood clot could break off and lodge itself into the artery leading to the brain. According to The American Heart Association, 15-20 percent of stroke victims have AFib.
Knowing the symptoms of a stroke could save your life. The acronym BE FAST not only reminds us to act quickly, but to also be on the lookout for Balance problems, Eyes blurred, Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time everything started.
There are Different Types of AFib
While the symptoms are the same, there are actually five different kinds of AFib that medical professionals use to classify patients. From the most mildest case being paroxysmal fibrillation with symptoms presenting only a few times a year, to long-standing AFib where symptoms last more than twelve months, talk with your doctor to classify your symptoms and find the best course of treatment.
It is Treatable
Fortunately in many cases, AFib is treatable. There are medications to control the heart’s rhythm, blood thinners are often used to prevent clots from forming, surgery can make an impact, and a healthy lifestyle can often manage AFib risk factors.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is equipped with top-of-the-line facilities and services to treat cardiopulmonary patients within the High Country. The Heart & Vascular Center has AFib monitors and knowledgeable cardiologists who are able to help you manage this condition.
Have a question about how we can help you? Call The Heart & Vascular Center at (828) 264-9664.