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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.

  • What is prediabetes?
  • Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough for an official diagnosis of diabetes. Prediabetes can be diagnosed through a simple blood sugar test, which helps identify patients at high risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.
  • What is pericarditis?
  • Pericarditis is a condition in which the fluid-filled sac around the heart becomes inflamed. In most cases, pericarditis goes away after treatment (acute pericarditis) but in some patients, pericarditis can return (chronic or recurrent pericarditis). While most cases of pericarditis are mild and may even go away on their own, some severe cases of pericarditis can be life threatening. Seeking immediate treatment for pericarditis can greatly improve outcomes.
  • What are the symptoms of pericarditis?
  • Chest pain is the most common symptom of pericarditis. Additional symptoms may include fever, chills or sweating, difficulty breathing when lying down, dry cough, fatigue, anxiety and ankle, feet or leg swelling.
  • What are possible complications of diabetes
  • Diabetes can cause a number of different complications, ranging from high blood pressure and stroke to skin, eye and foot complications. The good news is that by closely managing blood sugar levels, patients can significantly reduce risk of serious complications.
  • How is diabetes managed?
  • While there is no cure for diabetes, there are ways that patients can manage their condition and reduce risk for complications. Eating healthy, staying active, maintaining/achieving a healthy weight and taking medicine regularly (if prescribed) can help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
  • How is aortic stenosis treated?
  • Treatment for aortic stenosis varies depending on how severe the condition is. If aortic stenosis is mild and causes no symptoms, patients may only be monitored over time. However, patients with more severe aortic stenosis often require medication, surgery or minimally-invasive procedures to repair or replace the valve and relieve symptoms.
  • How are heart attacks treated?
  • Early treatment for a heart attack can greatly increase chances of survival and minimize permanent damage to the heart. Immediate treatment can include medicine, a minimally invasive procedure called angioplasty or surgery (coronary artery bypass grafting).
  • How can I prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack are at high risk for having a future heart attack. After suffering a heart attack, it’s important to work with your doctor to reduce risk with any combination of therapies, such as cardiac rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and/or medication.
  • How can you increase chances of survival during a heart attack?
  • When someone is having a heart attack, recognizing signs and symptoms immediately is key. Major warning signs include chest pain, pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and cold sweats. Calling 911 and seeking immediate medical attention at the first signs of a heart attack can significantly improve chances of survival.
  • Is depression common among heart patients?
  • Yes, depression is relatively common among patients living with heart disease. Not only has depression been linked to heart disease, patients living with depression often have worse outcomes than individuals without this condition. If you’re worried that you might suffer from depression, it’s important to talk with your doctor to better understand the condition and possible treatments.
  • How do I know if I have depression?
  • Symptoms of depression may include difficulty concentrating, feeling sad or irritable, loss of appetite, loss of interest in everyday activities and trouble sleeping. However, depression affects each person differently so symptoms can vary. If you feel depressed or are concerned about depression, make an appointment to see your doctor.
  • How can I lower my blood pressure through diet?
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure. Limiting salt intake and eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, like with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, can help significantly lower blood pressure.

  • How is heart valve disease treated?
  • Depending on how severe heart valve disease is, treatment options may vary. Some patients with minor valve disease may not need any treatment. However, patients with more severe disease may require medication, medical procedures or surgery to correct their condition.
  • What is a ventricular septal defect?
  • A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is an opening in the wall that divides the lower chambers of the heart. VSD is usually diagnosed at birth and if left untreated, can cause lung disease as children get older.
  • What is d-TGA (dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries)?
  • D-TGA is a rare heart defect that affects roughly 4,000 babies born in the United States each year. When a baby is born with d-TGA, the two main arteries that carry blood out of the heart are reversed. Most babies born with d-TGA require surgery soon after birth to fix the reversed arteries and restore normal blood flow to the rest of the body.
  • How common are heart defects?
  • Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting roughly 1% of all births in the United States each year.
  • Could I have a heart condition because I have sudden throbbing pain in my jaw accompanied by very elevated blood pressure and racing pulse?
  • Chest pressure or pain radiating to the jaw is one of the classic symptoms of the heart not getting enough blood flow, which happens during a heart attack or when patients have chronic, severe blockages in the blood vessels supplying the heart. Often, these symptoms may also radiate to the left arm, and may go together with shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, or sweating. However, different people may experience different symptoms. Women, elderly patients, and those with diabetes are thought to be more likely to have "atypical" symptoms, such as palpitations ("heart racing"), or weakness/fatigue. Also, other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, and in some patients, stress or anxiety might also make you feel these symptoms.

    For all these reasons, it is best to discuss these symptoms with a doctor who knows you, so you can decide together on what other tests or treatment might be warranted. However, for patients concerned about having a heart attack, we recommend calling 911 for transport to the hospital because that is the safest approach. For more information about warning signs of heart attacks, check out this CardioSmart page about chest pain.

    Best regards,

    Siqin Ye, MD, MS

  • My father recently has had 3 stents placed in his heart and an ICD implanted. He now has sleep apnea. What are the treatment options for sleep apnea?
  • How was the sleep apnea diagnosed? We would recommend a formal sleep study in order to determine the extent of the sleep apnea. Based on those results, the pulmonary physicians will decide if the sleep apnea needs to be addressed.

    Most often, options for treatment of sleep apnea would target the cause of the sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by airway obstruction. Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain does not correctly signal the respiratory muscles to breathe. Risks for sleep apnea include: Male sex, overweight, large tonsils/soft tissue, small jaw, large neck, GERD, nasal obstruction (like a deviated septum).

    If the diagnosis is obstructive sleep apnea, treatment would focus on reducing the cause: weight loss, tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, GERD treatment. Treatment for OSA would be CPAP (A machine to help keep the airway open) or a mouth device.

    Surgery can be performed on the jaw, soft tissue, or nasal septum if warranted, but most would try the less invasive treatments first.

    Best regards,

    Lynn Peng, MD, FACC
    Associate Director, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory
    Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
    Stanford Medical Center


  • What is coronary artery calcification?
  • Coronary artery calcification (CAC) is the buildup of calcium in the arteries, which can cause blood vessels to narrow and lead to the development of heart disease.
  • What is cognitive decline?
  • Cognitive decline involves problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment. Although some decline in cognitive ability is natural as we age, some individuals may experience greater than normal age-related changes, which may be a sign of dementia.
  • What are symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)?
  • Symptoms of FH include fatty skin deposits on or around the hands, elbows, knees, ankles and the eyes, and cholesterol deposits on the eyelids. Individuals with FH may also experience chest pain or other signs of heart disease, even at a young age.
  • How is familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) diagnosed?
  • FH is typically diagnosed through blood tests that measure cholesterol levels, a physical examination and a review of family medical history. Genetic tests may also be used to diagnose FH. Once FH is diagnosed, the goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • What is mitral valve regurgitation?
  • Mitral valve regurgitation means that one of the valves in your heart—the mitral valve—is letting blood leak backward into the heart.

    Heart valves work like one-way gates, helping blood flow in one direction between heart chambers or in and out of the heart. The mitral valve is on the left side of your heart. It lets blood flow from the upper to the lower heart chamber. When the mitral valve is damaged—for example, by an infection—it may no longer close tightly. This lets blood leak backward, or regurgitate, into the upper chamber. Your heart has to work harder to pump this extra blood. Small leaks are usually not a problem. But more severe cases weaken the heart over time and can lead to heart failure.

  • What causes mitral valve regurgitation?
  • There are two forms of mitral valve regurgitation: chronic and acute.

    • Chronic mitral valve regurgitation, the most common type, develops slowly. Many people with this problem may have a valve that is prone to wear and tear. As the person gets older, the valve gets weak and no longer closes tightly. Other causes include heart failure, rheumatic fever, congenital heart disease, a calcium buildup in the valve, and other heart problems.
    • Acute mitral valve regurgitation develops quickly and can be life-threatening. It happens when the valve or nearby tissue ruptures suddenly. Instead of a slow leak, blood builds up quickly in the left side of the heart. Your heart doesn't have time to adjust to this sudden buildup of blood the way it does with the slow buildup of blood in chronic regurgitation. Common causes of acute regurgitation are heart attack and a heart infection called endocarditis.
  • How are congenital heart defects treated?
  • If you or your child have a heart defect, it can be very scary. But there are a number of treatment options depending on the type of defect and the symptoms. It’s important to find a cardiologist who specializes in congenital heart defects and get support. Learn more about treatment.

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