How is heart disease treated?

Some heart diseases that are diagnosed early can be successfully treated before the development of permanent heart damage and complications, such as heart failure and cardiac arrest. Heart disease treatment plans use a multifaceted approach and are individualized to the type and severity of your heart disease, risk factors, lifestyle, medical history, and other diseases and conditions you have.

Treatment for advanced or critical stages of heart disease

Advanced or critical stages of heart disease generally require hospitalization and some combination of:

  • Intensive monitoring and stabilization of heart rhythm and vital signs. This may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and advanced life support measures, such as intubation and mechanical ventilation to support breathing.

  • Monitoring your heart rate and rhythm with an electrocardiogram (EKG) and lab tests, such as cardiac enzymes, to determine the extent of heart damage

  • Supplemental oxygen to increase the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the heart tissue and the rest of the body

  • Treatment of abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias) with medications and possibly cardioversion or electrical defibrillation

Medications used to treat heart disease

The following medications may be prescribed for a variety of types of heart disease during and after hospitalization:

  • ACE inhibitors (ramipril, lisinopril, enalapril, or captopril), which lower high blood pressure and help prevent heart failure

  • Aspirin, which helps prevent new blood clots

  • Beta blockers (metoprolol, atenolol, and propranolol), which lower high blood pressure and reduce strain on the heart

  • Heparin, which helps prevent new blood clots

  • Medications to lower high cholesterol, including statins, niacin, and selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors  

  • Medications to raise low blood pressure, which may be used in certain situations, such as in cardiogenic shock

  • Medications to treat cardiac arrhythmias, which include digitalis, beta blockers, verapamil, adenosine, lidocaine, or calcium channel blockers

  • Morphine, which reduces pain and anxiety and lowers the amount of oxygen the heart needs

  • Nitroglycerine, which helps widen narrowed coronary arteries and improves blood flow to the heart

  • Thrombolytic (clot-dissolving) drugs, which break up and dissolve the clot that is causing a heart attack. Thrombolytic drugs are most effective if given within three hours of the onset of chest pain.

Surgical treatments for heart disease

Surgical treatments vary depending on the specific type of heart disease and other factors. Surgical treatments may include:

  • Angioplasty and stent placement to widen the artery using a balloon device. In most cases, a stent (hollow tube) is placed in the artery to keep it open.

  • Coronary artery bypass to graft new arteries to bypass the blocked coronary artery or arteries. Blood flow is then redirected through healthy new grafted arteries to the affected heart tissues.

  • Heart transplantation in selected patients
  • Surgery to correct congenital heart defects

  • Surgery to replace or repair abnormal heart valves

  • Surgical implantation of a cardioverter-defibrillator or pacemaker to deliver electrical stimulation to the heart using a small device and electrical wires placed in the body. The electrical stimulation corrects abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias).

Other treatments for heart disease

Other treatments and therapies that may be recommended as part of a complete treatment program for heart disease include:

  • Cardiac rehabilitation and physical therapy to help strengthen your body, reduce complications, increase alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve overall health and functional ability

  • Complementary or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga to reduce stress, increase flexibility, and improve well-being. Complementary treatments are not a substitute for full medical care. Be sure to notify your doctor if you are taking nutritional supplements or homeopathic (nonprescription) remedies as they may interact with the prescribed medical therapy.

  • Palliative care to improve the overall quality of life for families and patients with serious diseases.

  • Regular follow-up care is very important to help monitor your treatment and progress and to address any problems or complications promptly.

What are the possible complications of heart disease?

Complications of heart disease are serious and can be life threatening. You can best help minimize the risk of serious complications of heart disease by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

Serious complications of heart disease include:

  • Aneurysm, a life-threatening bulging and weakening of the wall of an artery that can burst and cause severe hemorrhage
  • Blood clots that cause heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs)
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Disability
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve damage
  • Lethal cardiac arrhythmias

References:

  1. Atherosclerosis. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/WhyCholesterolMatters/Atherosclerosis_UCM_30556....
  2. Heart Disease. Kidshealth. http://kidshealth.org/kid/grownup/conditions/heart_disease.html.
  3. What Is a Heart Attack? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_WhatIs.html.
  4. Pediatric Cardiomyopathies. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/ChildrensHealth/Pediatric-Cardiomyopathies_UCM_312219_....
  5. O'Gara PT, Kushner FG, Ascheim DD, et al. 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of ST-elevation myocardial infarction: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation 2013; 127:529.
  6. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  7. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
INTRODUCTION

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a general name for a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source: Read more about heart diseaseintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Symptoms of heart disease can differ depending on the type and severity of heart disease and individual factors. Symptoms can occur as an isolated problem or in combination with other heart conditions. One well-known symptom of heart disease is chest pain, but not all chest pain is caused by heart disease.
Read more about heart diseasesymptoms

CAUSES

What causes heart disease?

The heart is a muscle that requires a steady supply of oxygen in order to pump blood effectively through the body. Oxygen is supplied to the heart by blood that flows through the coronary arteries. Some types of heart disease damage or block the coronary arteries and the flow of oxygen to the heart. Other forms of heart disease damage or impair the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. Th... Read more about heart diseasecauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation