What Do the Best-Trained Doctors Do to Beat Heart Disease?
In today's avalanche of medical information, how can you distinguish between proven evidence and unfounded claims? This is the first book to translate key medical data into clear guidelines capturing the highest treatment standards for heart disease. Renowned cardiovascular expert Dr. Harlan Krumholz presents seven strategies for reducing cardiac risk—what professionals agree really works. In this indispensable handbook, he also profiles care alternatives from supplements to stress reduction as well as treatments on the horizon. A "Tools for Success" section helps you track blood pressure, cholesterol, exercise, and weight.
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About the Author
Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., is a professor of cardiology, epidemiology, and public health at the Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation. Author of more than 250 journal articles, Dr. Krumholz serves on numerous cardiovascular care committees for national organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.
Read an Excerpt
The Expert Guide to Beating Heart Disease
What You Absolutely Must Know
Understanding Heart Disease
The human heart is an astonishing organ. A muscle only about the size of your fist, it sits just to the left of the center of your chest contracting and relaxing to pump blood -- roughly five liters of it a minute -- throughout your body. It is an involuntary muscle. Unlike, for example, the muscles in your arm that you flex voluntarily when you lift something, your heart needs no instruction. It operates independently and continuously, day and night, week in, week out, year after year. When it stops, life stops.
What Is Heart Disease?
The heart is tough, but it's not invulnerable and it can be afflicted by a variety of diseases. But what's commonly called heart disease (though, more accurately known as "coronary artery disease") is, interestingly enough, not a disease of the heart at all. At least not directly. It's a disease of the large arteries outside the heart that supply the smaller vessels that feed the heart muscle with blood rich in nutrients and oxygen that the heart needs to keep working. Other vessels carry away the waste products produced by the heart in the course of its work. Coronary arteries, the large arteries carrying blood to the heart muscle, are like the huge pipes that carry water from a reservoir to a big city, to be distributed to streets, individual houses, and then specific faucets before being carried away again through drains. If something happens to those big pipes that blocks the flow of vital water to the city, the city shuts down in no time at all. Your heart needs an open system of pipes to maintain an unabated flow of blood all the time.
When the heart works harder, such as during exertion or stress, it needs even more blood flow. It gets this greater flow because, unlike water pipes, the blood vessels can dilate, or open larger, when the need arises. When something impedes that flow, it causes immediate problems for the heart muscle, which becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients.
With heart disease, the "something" that restricts the flow is an accumulation of fatty deposits -- including cholesterol -- that form thick "plaques" on the interior walls of the coronary arteries, a process that can slow the flow of blood to the heart. This condition, called atherosclerosis, occurs gradually and may go unnoticed for years.
What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
When atherosclerosis is advanced, the flow of blood can be reduced enough that when the heart is asked to work harder than usual -- for example, when you're exercising or climbing stairs, or simply digesting a heavy meal -- it can't get the blood flow that it needs.
Typically, the heart signals that it's struggling by producing a feeling of chest discomfort, a condition that doctors call angina. Angina can take many forms; the sensations can include weakness, heaviness, pressure, tightness, and even pain in the middle of the chest. People with angina may also feel this discomfort at some distance from the heart -- in the arms, abdomen, back, neck, and lower jaw, for example. Angina is simply the heart's way of saying there is a mismatch between the oxygen-rich blood flow it needs and what is actually arriving for its use. Usually, if you have this symptom, the discomfort goes away when you stop whatever activity is causing your heart to work harder than usual (or, if you've already been diagnosed with angina, when you take medication, such as nitroglycerin tablets or spray). You should also know that not everyone has this feeling when there is a problem with blood flow to the heart, but it usually is an important signal when it occurs.
If you experience any symptoms in the checklist below, you should let your doctor know because they could be indications of heart disease. These symptoms are not always caused by heart disease; they may be harmless or due to other medical conditions. But if you already have heart disease, these symptoms are enough to indicate a potential heart problem and reason enough for you to check with your doctor, especially if these symptoms are new.
- DISCOMFORT IN YOUR CHEST that comes on during physical exertion or emotional stress; it may spread to your arms, neck, lower jaw, face, back, or stomach. If this discomfort is from your heart, it is called angina.
- UNUSUAL BREATHLESSNESS when doing light activity or when you are at rest can be a symptom of heart disease. Breathlessness that comes on suddenly may be an important warning sign.
- PALPITATION is the term used to describe the condition in which you feel your heart beat faster or more forcefully than usual, or in an irregular pattern. Palpitations may be a symptom of heart disease, especially if they last for a few hours, if they come and go over several days, or if they cause chest pain, breathlessness, or dizziness.
- FAINTING (or the sensation that you are about to faint) can be caused by inadequate oxygen reaching the brain, which may be due to heart disease.
- SWELLING or fluid retention (also known as edema) is fluid buildup in your tissues. This usually happens around the ankles, legs, lungs, and abdomen. Swelling of the legs can be perfectly normal for some people after working many hours on their feet. However, it can also be a sign that the heart is not pumping efficiently.
- FATIGUE has many causes, but it's worth seeing the doctor if you feel unusually tired, especially if it is combined with other suspicious symptoms noted above.
Sometimes, however, the danger signal from the heart is more dramatic. Atherosclerosis causes plaques to accumulate in the coronary arteries. These plaques are lumps and bumps within the coronary arteries that can contain cholesterol, white blood cells, and other substances. Sometimes they grow to block the arteries and sometimes they are small and do not affect the blood flow ...The Expert Guide to Beating Heart Disease
What You Absolutely Must Know. Copyright © by Harlan Krumholz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Helpful introduction ot the topic of heart disease and how to treat it or ruduce the likelihood of getting it. Rates treatment alternatives as Proven benefit, Probable benefit, Possible benefit, etc...