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.

  • What are symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

  • Most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include chest pain, palpitations, weakness, lightheadedness, confusion, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may be chronic, lasting for long periods of time, or come and go, lasting for only a few minutes at a time. However, some people with atrial fibrillation experience no symptoms at all.
  • What do I do if my physician doesn’t refer me to cardiac rehabilitation and I think I’m eligible to participate in it?
  • Unfortunately, many doctors and nurses still just plain forget to mention cardiac rehabilitation during busy office visits or when people are discharged from the hospital. They may also think that another care provider has already mentioned it. Don’t be afraid to ask about whether cardiac rehab is right for you. Feel free to print out information about cardiac rehabilitation from the Cardio Smart or AACVPR websites to show them. Not only will they welcome the reminder to help you find a program, but you’ll be glad you did.
  • What causes sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death is most often caused by arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, that cause the heart to stop beating. However, it can be the result of many other cardiac causes, and usually results in death within 1 hour of the onset of symptoms.
  • What causes sleep apnea?
  • Sleep apnea is most commonly caused by excessive relaxation of the throat muscles, called obstructive sleep apnea. However, sleep apnea can also be caused by the malfunction of brain signals during sleep, known as central sleep apnea, or a combination of the two, called complex sleep apnea.
  • What does "medication adherence" mean?

  • Medication adherence means taking the proper dose of a drug the correct number of times each day and never adjusting or skipping doses without being advised to do so by a physician. Failing to properly adhere to medications could render drugs ineffective or actually harm the body.
  • What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

  • High blood pressure often has no symptoms, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” Because hypertension only causes some symptoms like dizziness or headaches when it reaches a severe stage, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • What are the symptoms of PTSD?

  • Symptoms of PTSD often fall into three main categories—reliving the traumatic event, avoidance (feeling detached and lacking emotion or feelings), and hyperarousal (irritable and unable to sleep). Although these symptoms often begin immediately after the traumatic incident, they can show up much later in some individuals, resulting in delayed-onset PTSD.
  • What are the warning signs of PAD?

  • The first inkling that you have PAD is often a painful cramp in the calf or thigh that occurs repeatedly when you walk, but disappears when you’re at rest.  This symptom is known as intermittent claudication.  People with PAD often curtail their activity to avoid further pain. However, inactivity only worsens the condition, creating a downward spiral.

    As PAD becomes more advanced, other symptoms may develop including:

    • Aching or burning in your feet and toes, especially when lying down at night
    • Redness or other color changes to the skin on your feet
    • Skin on the feet that feels cool to the touch
    • Sores on your toes or feet that do not heal
  • What causes peripartum cardiomyopathy?

  • Although researchers are not yet sure of the exact causes of this condition, some propose that it may be due to hormonal abnormalities, malnutrition, inflammation or immune system responses during pregnancy.
  • Why are most heart attacks during pregnancy caused by coronary dissection?

  • Experts believe that coronary dissection is more common during pregnancy because the walls of the arteries become weakened, due to the increase in the blood supply and blood flow during pregnancy.
  • Why do low-income neighborhoods have poorer health than the rest of the nation?

  • Although the causes of poorer health in low-income neighborhoods are unclear, it is likely that factors limiting exercise and healthy eating contribute to these outcomes, as well as increased stress and poor access to healthcare.
  • Why does depression increase risk for stroke?

  • The exact cause of increased risk for stroke with depression is unknown. However, it is clear that there are links between mental health and risk for a variety of health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. It is possible that depression makes the body increasingly susceptible to these conditions, and/or that having a positive mental state helps protect against these negative effects.
  • Why are women underrepresented in cardiovascular research studies?
  • Since cardiovascular disease was originally thought to be more prevalent in men, most research targeted men as participants. Even now that research has shown that heart disease is not only the number one killer of women and men, and that it actually kills more women each year than men nationwide, many women do not know this. Therefore, the lack of female participation in cardiovascular studies may be largely due to the lack of awareness.  It is also believed that many women, juggling their many responsibilities in life, are often so concerned with taking care of others that they fail to take the time to address their own health needs.
  • Why could living alone have a negative impact on health?

  • Many studies have shown that feelings of isolation and a lack of social support can have a negative impact on physical health. Although further research is needed, it is possible that living alone could lead to negative feelings of loneliness, which in turn may affect overall health.
  • Who is at highest risk for AF?

  • Adults with heart disease, cardiovascular conditions or history of heart attack are at greatest risk for AF. Other common risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease and metabolic syndrome. Risk for AF also increases with age.

  • Who gets post-traumatic stress disorder?

  • PTSD can occur in anyone experiencing a traumatic event that involves threat of injury or death, including assault, domestic abuse and war.

  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.
  • Who is eligible to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program?

  • Medicare and most private insurers cover cardiac rehabilitation generally for 24–36 sessions over a 3– to 6–month period for people who have had recent heart attacks; angina; bypass or valve surgery; coronary angioplasty or stents; or heart transplants. However, some insurance companies also recognize the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation to help people with heart failure and cover participation for people with heart failure and other diagnoses.
  • Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation?

  • Increased age, heart disease, high blood pressure, alcohol abuse and chronic cardiovascular conditions can increase risk for atrial fibrillation. Family history of this condition may also increase risk, as atrial fibrillation may be genetic.
  • Who is at risk for angina?
  • Those at greatest risk for angina include individuals with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Excess stress, smoking, older age and a lack of exercise can also increase risk for angina. Fortunately, most of these risk factors can be reduced by working with your doctor and making positive lifestyle changes.
  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

  • Why is shared decision making so important in heart failure care?

  • With a number of treatment options for heart failure patients, choosing which therapies are best for each patient has become increasingly confusing. And with many heart failure patients living longer lives than ever before, there are many treatment decisions to be made over the course of the disease. That's why it's important that heart failure patients work together with their doctors to choose the best treatment options in accordance with their preferences, goals and values.
  • Why is someone with atrial fibrillation at risk for a stroke?

  • Normally, blood is constantly flowing through the atria, ventricles and blood vessels. But because blood pools in the quivering atria, it has the chance to congeal into blood clots, which can travel to the brain, blocking blood flow and causing a stroke. That’s why patients with atrial fibrillation must take some form of anti-clotting medication such as aspirin or the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin).

    Not wanting to take lifelong blood thinners is one of the reasons people have radiofrequency ablation to rid themselves of atrial fibrillation. However, researchers in the new study advised anyone who has already had a stroke to continue taking blood thinners, since atrial fibrillation can return even after a successful radiofrequency ablation procedure.
  • Why is TAV-in-SAV used primarily for high-risk patients only?

  • Redo aortic valve surgery is the safest option for most patients with failing surgical aortic valves, associated with only a 2–7% risk of operative mortality. However, for patients that are high-risk, redo aortic valve surgery is much more dangerous, increasing risk of mortality to more than 30%. Therefore, TAVI may be a better and safer option for high-risk patients.
  • Why is stroke so prevalent worldwide?
  • Due to better lifestyle guidelines and medical advances, more people are living longer. Older individuals have increased risk for stroke based on age, so a larger proportion of populations are at high risk. Also, major risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are increasing worldwide, which can increase the incidence of stroke.

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