Ask an Expert

Conditions

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

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart attack?
  • You can significantly reduce risk for heart attack by knowing your numbers and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, including hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking. You can also help reduce cardiovascular risk by maintaining a healthy weight and heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly and controlling stress.

    Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

  • What if I have tried to learn more about my health but still have trouble understanding?
  • Patients who have trouble understanding their health conditions should ask for help from their health care team, whether it's a doctor, nurse or counselor. Health care providers can help point patients to a variety of resources that can cater to individual needs.
  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • What is aortic stenosis and how does it progress over time?

  • Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve does not open fully, which can obstruct normal blood flow and put extra stress on the heart. Aortic stenosis can start out mild, but worsen over time as the area of the aortic valve decreases lessening the amount of blood flowing from the heart. Patients with aortic stenosis should be continually monitored by a cardiologist to track the progression of this condition, and strenuous activity should be avoided in those with moderate to severe aortic stenosis.
  • What is electrical cardioversion?
  • Direct current cardioversion, referred to as electrical cardioversion, is the use of a small electrical shock to help restore the heart’s normal rhythm. This procedure is very different from the emergency heart shocking procedure often seen on TV, as it is a lower-energy shock that is planned and given under controlled conditions.
  • What is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)?

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.  A CPAP device consists of a face mask that covers your mouth and nose, and a small machine that blows air through the mask into your throat. The air gently presses on the walls of your airways so they do not collapse when your muscles relax during sleep. Most people have a period of adjustment when first using a CPAP machine, but usually feel much better over time.
  • What is cognitive impairment?

  • Cognitive impairment is reduced brain function associated with problems around memory, language, thinking and judgment. This condition often comes with old age, but can also occur as a result of cardiovascular risk factors or stroke.
  • What is a catheter ablation?

  • Catheter ablation is a procedure that involves inserting a catheter (small tube) into an artery near the groin, threading it up to the heart and normalizing heart tissue with electrical signals. Ablation has proven 60-75% effective in treating patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
  • What is an automated external defibrillator (AED) and how does it work?

  • An AED is a portable device that automatically diagnoses life threatening cardiac conditions, such as sudden cardiac arrest, and can treat individuals through defibrillation. By applying electrical shocks to the heart, AEDs help restore regular heart rhythm and allow for blood and oxygen flow to the heart, brain and body.
  • What is psoriasis?

  • Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease causing skin redness and irritation. This condition occurs when skin cells rise to the skin’s surface too quickly, causing the build-up of dead skin cells.
  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • What is insomnia?

  • Insomnia is defined as a subjective feeling of having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night, or having a feeling of nonrestorative sleep. Individuals having difficulty falling or staying asleep and/or feeling exhausted in the morning despite ample sleep should discuss these concerns with a doctor.
  • What is it like to have a radiofrequency ablation procedure?
  • The procedure will be done in the hospital, in the electrophysiology (EP) laboratory. You’ll be awake during the procedure but you’ll be given a sedative to help you relax. Your heart and blood pressure will be monitored the entire time.

    While you lay flat on a table in the EP lab, your cardiologist will insert a needle into a vein in your groin (or possibly your arm or neck), after first numbing the area. Then slender tubes called catheters will be threaded through your veins into your heart. The catheters have special electrodes on their tips that can detect abnormal electrical impulses in your heart and send out pulses of radiofrequency energy to destroy problem tissue and leave scar tissue in its place.

    The radiofrequency ablation procedure takes several hours, depending on how many areas of the heart are generating abnormal electrical impulses. Your cardiologist will carefully create lines of scar tissue around each of them. You may feel some discomfort when the catheter is sending out radiofrequency energy. Be sure to let your doctor know if you feel severe pain or shortness of breath.

    After the procedure, you’ll need to lie to flat on a bed for several hours while pressure is applied to the puncture site in your groin. This helps a blood clot to form. During this time, it’s important not to move your legs, sit up or walk around. Depending on how you’re doing, your doctor will decide whether you should go home or stay in the hospital overnight. You may feel some abnormal heart beats after the procedure, but these should go way once your heart has healed.
  • What is leptin?

  • Leptin is a type of hormone that helps regulate energy, metabolism and appetite. Research has shown that some people may be resistant to leptin, and their bodies fail to respond to the hormone correctly. This may cause them to have an increased appetite, store more fat than others and gain weight.
  • What are the most common heart attack symptoms in women?

  • The most common symptoms of heart attack in women include discomfort or pressure in the chest; pain in the arms, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach; nausea or vomiting; trouble breathing; breaking out in a cold sweat; dizziness or lightheadedness; inability to sleep; unusual fatigue and clammy skin. However, women may experience all, none, many or just a few of these heart attack symptoms.

    Watch a news video about this study featuring CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief, Dr. JoAnne Foody.

  • What are the most common complications associated with cardiomyopathies during pregnancy, labor and delivery?
  • Patients with cardiomyopathies are at increased risk for heart failure, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death from pregnancy to delivery. Risk can vary greatly, however, based on the type and severity of cardiomyopathy in a patient.
  • What are the signs of peripartum cardiomyopathy during pregnancy?

  • Although this condition is rare, it does occur in about 1 in 3,200 women. Those with peripartum cardiomyopathy will present similar symptoms as for heart failure, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and abdominal pain. Patients presenting these symptoms should talk with their doctor, as this condition can be easily diagnosed in patients.

  • What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?
  • Symptoms of congenital heart disease depend on the specific condition, with some symptoms presenting early in life, while others may have no symptoms for years.
  • What are the risk factors for heart attack and stroke?

  • Heart attack and stroke share many of the same risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight or obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, and physical inactivity. Risk for both also increases with age.
  • What are "revascularization" procedures?

  • In some cases, the blockage in the artery cannot be sufficiently reduced with medication alone and a surgical remedy is needed. The less-invasive option is to inflate a balloon catheter in the artery at the point of the blockage to open the channel for blood flow. Often a wire mesh device called a stent is place in the artery to prevent it from closing again. If the blockage is severe or blood flow is reduced in several arteries, coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) may be needed. This operation involves opening the chest cavity and surgically attaching a new piece of vessel to reroute blood flow around the damaged arteries.
  • What are significant differences in the cardiovascular health of women vs. men?

  • While additional research is needed further understand the cardiovascular differences between men and women, one significant variation is among heart attack symptoms. For men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or pressure in the chest. Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to have unusual or "atypical" signs of a heart attack, and some of these symptoms may come and go. The danger is that many women are unaware of these differences in symptoms, and will often disregard a heart attack for fatigue or the flu. There are additional recognized differences between men and women, including the time at which the disease sets in, severity of shared risk factors and the presence of unique risk factors associated with hormonal changes and pregnancy.
  • What are risk factors for heart failure?

  • Major risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, irregular heartbeats, diabetes, congenital heart defects, kidney conditions and excessive alcohol use.
  • What are my risks for heart failure?

  • Heart failure is a serious but all too common condition. It affects about 5.7 million people in the United States and causes 300,000 deaths each year. Heart failure is more prevalent in young men, African Americans, and people over age 65, particularly women. Hereditary factors and congenital heart defects can also raise your risk.

    Heart failure develops when the heart muscle is damaged or overworked. Some of the primary contributors to heart failure include:
    • Obesity
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Heart attack
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • Alcohol
  • What are symptoms of a deep venous thrombosis?

  • Blood clots most often occur in the leg or pelvis, but can also develop in the arm. Blood clots in the arm or leg can cause pain, swelling or discoloration of the limb, as well as a slight fever. However, some clots can present no symptoms, especially when occurring in the pelvis.

Ask an Expert

Please note that every question submitted will not receive a direct response from a Cardiologist. However, we will follow-up with suggested ways to find appropriate information related to your question. Please do not use your last name or any other confidential information in your question.

Meet our Expert

Your questions are answered by more than two dozen members of the American College of Cardiology who volunteer their time with CardioSmart.

Learn more about our volunteers