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Find answers to frequently asked questions about a variety of health conditions, like heart attack, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation.

  • How is atrial fibrillation treated?
  • Depending on the individual needs of each patient, treatment options for atrial fibrillation include medication and/or surgical or nonsurgical procedures. The goal of treatment is often to promote a normal heartbeat, address any underlying medical issues when possible, reduce risk for heart attack and stroke and improve quality of life.
  • What are the traditional risk factors for heart disease?
  • Through decades of research, we’ve learned that certain factors increase risk for heart disease—some of which we can control and a few of which we can’t. Modifiable risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity and poor diet. Risk factors that we can’t control include age, gender, race or ethnicity and family history of heart disease. It’s important to address risk factors that we can control to help prevent heart disease.
  • What causes heart disease in young adults?
  • Throughout adulthood, the same factors increase risk for heart disease, including age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and family medical history. However, it is likely that heart disease in young adults is strongly related to genetic factors that are harder to modify. That’s why it’s important to identify cardiovascular risk factors early in life to help address risk factors and reduce risk of developing heart disease.
  • What is congenital heart disease?
  • Congenital heart disease, often referred to as a congenital heart defect, includes a number of conditions causing an abnormality of the heart’s structure. These defects are present at birth. Many congenital heart defects are not diagnosed until children are older, since some have few signs or symptoms.
  • How are congenital heart defects treated?
  • Treatment for a congenital heart defect depends on the type of defect, how severe it is, and the child’s age and overall health. Based on these factors, treatment may range from medicine to surgery and heart transplants, depending on disease severity. However, many patients with congenital heart defects don’t require treatment.
  • What is the difference between obstructive and nonobstructive heart disease?
  • Coronary artery disease (also called coronary heart disease or heart disease) is a term used to describe the narrowing of the arteries inside the heart due to the build up of plaque, known as atherosclerosis. With obstructive heart disease, the build-up of plaque in the arteries can slow or stop the flow of blood to the heart. With nonobstructive heart disease, called coronary microvascular disease (MVD), there is damage to the blood vessels that branch off from the larger coronary arteries. Women develop nonobstructive heart disease more often than men and diagnosing this condition can be a challenge, since standard tests are not designed to detect this microvascular disease.
  • What are the signs and symptoms of coronary microvascular disease?
  • The most common signs of coronary microvascular disease (also called nonobstructive coronary heart disease) include chest pain, shortness of breath, sleep problems, fatigue and a lack of energy. Most often, patients experiencing these symptoms first notice them during times of mental stress or during physical activity.
  • Why does chronic kidney disease increase risk for heart disease?
  • Chronic kidney disease can lead to a number of health complications like diabetes and high blood pressure, which put patients at significantly increased risk for heart disease. Chronic kidney disease is now an established risk factor for heart disease and prevention strategies to reduce cardiovascular risk are critical for patients with this condition.
  • Does atrial fibrillation increase stroke risk?
  • Yes. Left untreated, AFib causes a five-fold increase in risk for stroke and doubles the risk of heart-related deaths. However, treatment and medication can help significantly reduce risk of complications.

  • What increases risk for angina?
  • A number of factors can increase risk for chest pain, called angina, including tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight/obesity, stress and a lack of exercise. Age and family history also can increase risk for developing angina.
  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • Healthy lifestyle choices are key to reducing risk for heart disease. By eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, you can help significantly reduce heart disease risk. Knowing your numbers—body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar—and family history is also important so that you can address any risk factors you may have for heart disease.
  • Am I at risk for heart disease?
  • To estimate a patient’s risk for heart disease, doctors take into account a number of factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol, and family history. Using this information, doctors can estimate whether a patient is considered to be at low, medium or high risk for heart disease. Online tools are also available to help patients estimate their risk for heart disease.
  • What is obesity?
  • Obesity is defined as excess body fat, which can lead to serious health consequences. Obesity is typically measured by body mass index, which measures weight in relation to height. Adults with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.
  • What is coronary microvascular dysfunction?
  • Coronary microvascular dysfunction is a type of heart disease occurring in the tiny blood vessels that branch from the coronary arteries. Unlike coronary artery disease which occurs when there’s plaque build-up in the arteries, CMD occurs when the inner walls of blood vessels become damaged.
  • What causes coronary microvascular dysfunction?
  • It’s likely that risk factors for coronary microvascular dysfunction are similar to those of coronary artery disease. Risk factors may include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, older age, inactivity, overweight/obesity and family history of heart disease.
  • Who needs an ICD?
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators are used to help prevent sudden cardiac death, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. Most patients with ICDs have a history of sudden cardiac arrest or have been diagnosed with a rapid heartbeat, called ventricular tachycardia. However, ICDs may also be considered for patients at high risk for sudden cardiac death.
  • What is fetal heart disease?
  • Using advanced imaging, doctors are often able to detect heart defects in fetuses before birth, referred to as fetal heart disease. Following diagnosis of fetal heart disease, doctors work with parents to make the best possible medical decisions for the fetus.
  • What is the prognosis for fetal heart disease?
  • Once a fetus is diagnosed with a heart condition, the prognosis depends on a number of factors. Based on imaging tests and treatment options, parents should work closely with their health care team to reach decisions about treatment options that are best for them.
  • Why are frequent hospital visits common among heart failure patients?
  • Heart failure is a chronic condition that can cause debilitating symptoms, especially as the condition becomes more severe. It can also increase risk for complications such as stroke, heart valve problems and kidney damage. That’s why it’s important for patients with heart failure to work closely with their doctor to manage their condition and choose a treatment plan that is right for them.
  • What are the different types of stroke?
  • Stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is reduced or blocked. There are three different types of stroke, including ischemic, hemorrhagic, and TIA (transient ischemic attack). Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and occurs when a clot obstructs blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, often caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure. TIA is often called a “mini stroke,” and occurs when a blood clot temporarily blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
  • Why is atrial fibrillation common among heart failure patients?
  • Atrial fibrillation can lead to heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Patients with heart failure may also develop atrial fibrillation over time, which can worsen symptoms. For most patients with heart failure and atrial fibrillation, maintaining a normal heart rhythm and reducing risk of stroke are key treatment goals.
  • What is preeclampsia?
  • Preeclampsia is a serious condition that occurs when women develop high blood pressure during the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Preeclampsia affects anywhere from 2-8% of pregnancies and if left untreated, can lead to serious complications for the mother and child.
  • What are possible complications associated with preeclampsia?
  • When preeclampsia is severe, it can affect organs and cause serious problems in the mother and baby. However, symptoms of preeclampsia usually disappear within three months of giving birth. Women with a history of preeclampsia should also work closely with their doctor to address any risk factors they may have for heart disease, as preeclampsia increases cardiovascular risk later in life.
  • If I have prediabetes, will I develop diabetes in the future?
  • Although prediabetes drastically increases risk for the full-blown disease, there are ways to reduce risk of developing diabetes in the future. Healthy lifestyle choices including a balanced diet and regular physical activity can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, even just 7% of your body weight, can also help ward off diabetes later in life.

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