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  • Writer's pictureNathalia Zambakari

The ‘Heart’ of the Matter: Cardiovascular Disease

Updated: May 16, 2023

Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living provide residents with high-quality supervision and treatment reflective of what we believe should be the three cornerstones of managed care for seniors: meaningful, patient-centered care, service and advocacy. Our staff and professional healthcare practitioners are knowledgeable and respected servants, familiar with the latest evidence-based research and outcomes. As we continue to provide our residents with best-quality care, service and advocacy, we are sharing with you through our websites these timely and topical insights into issues that impact our elderly loved ones. And, while cardiovascular disease can be a serious health challenge, there are steps that can be taken to reduce risks and to slow its progress, which are discussed below.

The ‘Heart’ of the Matter: Cardiovascular Disease

What are cardiovascular conditions?

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect the normal functioning and structure of your heart or circulation. It’s actually an umbrella name for many conditions. The conditions that fall under its category are:


  • Abnormal heart rhythms also called arrhythmias.

  • Congenital heart disease.

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD).

  • Stroke.

  • Pulmonary embolism.

  • Heart failure.

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

  • Diseases of the aorta.

  • Marfan syndrome.

  • Rheumatic heart disease

  • Pericardial disease.

  • Diseases of the blood vessels.


Cardiovascular diseases are the major cause of death in the U.S.[1] These diseases put a heavy burden on the healthcare system. Many countries around the world spend as much as and more than 10 percent of their budgets on the understanding and management of these diseases.[2]


Learning about how your heart and blood vessels work is important in the prevention of these diseases. In other words, by taking care of yourself and understanding the diseases, you can live a healthier and happier life. To begin to understand these diseases, it is important to know their particular features and the differences between them.



1. Abnormal heart rhythms


The heart is an amazing and vital organ. Normally it has a steady rate and rhythm. It beats 60-100 times per minute. Apart from its rate, the rhythm and volume of a heartbeat are also important. Sometimes, your heart starts beating out of rhythm. In medical terms, your doctor would call this irregular rhythm “arrhythmia.”[3] An arrhythmia causes an uneven heartbeat that is either too slow or too fast or fluctuates in between slow and fast.



2. Aortic disease and Marfan syndrome


The aorta is the blood vessel that begins at your heart and supplies oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Some conditions of aortic disease can cause widening, thickening and tearing of this blood vessel. The most common culprits are:


  • Atherosclerosis (thickened arteries or plaque buildup in the arteries).

  • High blood pressure.

  • Connective tissue diseases that weaken your blood-vessel walls. There are more than 200 disorders that impact connective tissue; among the major disorders are scleroderma[4], Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and polycystic kidney disease.

  • Direct injury.


If you suffer from an aortic disease, treatment would most likely require a coordinated team of specialists and surgeons.



3. Cardiomyopathies


Disorders of the heart muscle are called cardiomyopathies. These disorders are also called – in more simple terms – enlarged hearts, as the individuals with these conditions have unusually large, thick or stiff hearts. Being large and thick inhibits the heart’s ability to function optimally; the heart is unable to pump blood properly. Consequently, cardiomyopathies can cause heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm in the long run. Therefore, treating the disorder properly and in a timely manner is important. Family history, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes increase the risk of developing cardiomyopathies.



4. Congenital heart disease


This disease develops before birth and causes problems in one or more parts of the heart or associated blood vessels. About 8 out of 1,000 children born alive have this condition[5]. However, only a few of them present with symptoms at birth: Most don’t show the symptom until late childhood or adulthood. The exact causes of congenital heart disease still remain unknown; genetics is a likely cause. A baby’s exposure to alcohol, drugs, or certain viral infections in the womb can also be the underlying causes of congenital heart disease[6].



5. Coronary artery disease (CAD)


This disease occurs when plaques build up and harden the blood vessels supplying the oxygen and essential nutrients to your heart. Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits, and plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis.



6. Stroke


When something slows or blocks the blood supply to your brain, stroke can occur. Your brain is unable to receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep functioning properly. Due to this shortage of oxygen and vital nutrients, the cells of the brain begin to die, and symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms appear in the part of the body where functions being controlled by the brain are experiencing a shortage of blood. The cause of stroke is usually a blocked or leaking blood vessel.


Stroke is a serious condition and needs immediate treatment to prevent further brain damage and complications.

7. Pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis


Blood clots can form in the deep veins of your body, particularly in the legs. The formation of these blood clots is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Sometimes, these clots simply break away from the walls of veins and start traveling through your blood. They can get stuck anywhere. Many clots reach the lungs, where they block blood flow. This is called pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is often medical emergency requiring immediate intervention. Genetics, family, high blood pressure, prolonged sitting, prolonged bed rest, recent surgery, oral contraceptives and pregnancy increase the risk of developing DVT[7].


8. Heart failure


Heart failure does not necessarily mean your heart has failed completely and has stopped working altogether. It simply means that your heart is not pumping the blood as strongly as needed. As a result, your body will start holding salts and water; this leads to the development of swelling and shortness of breath.


Heart failure is a major healthcare issue, as it affects more than 6.5 million people in the U.S.[8] Just as troubling as this number is, the percentage of people diagnosed with heart failure is feared to increase further in the upcoming years.



9. Heart valve disease


The human heart contains many valves that connect the heart chambers and the blood vessels existing from them. The basic function of these valves is to keep blood flowing through your heart normally. However, problems can arise in these valves. Some of the main problems of heart valve disease are:


  • Aortic stenosis, which slows the blood flow from the heart to the rest of your body.

  • Mitral valve insufficiency, causing blood to flow backward, building up fluid overload in your lungs.

  • Mitral valve prolapse, which is the improper closure of the valve between the upper left and lower left chambers of your heart.



10. Pericarditis


Pericarditis is an inflammation of the lining surrounding your heart. This is a rare condition and is usually caused by an infection.



11. Rheumatic heart disease


This disease occurs when rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that is most common in children, affects your heart valves. It typically starts with a throat infection,[9] and can extend to other parts of the body. In cases of persistent strep throat, shortness of breath, chest pains, joint pains and fever – to name but a handful – it is important to see your doctor, who will assess your or your child’s condition thoroughly and may recommend some blood tests and imaging diagnostics to look for heart damage.


The above 11 cardiovascular diseases are the most prominent, but the list is not exhaustive. If you ever feel pains and soreness are heart related, contact your doctor for professional diagnosis and treatment.



Treatment for cardiovascular disease:


Treatment depends upon the particular cardiovascular disease, and it is entirely different for different diseases. The basic steps of the treatment are:


  • Lifestyle changes that include dietary precautions, regular exercise, quitting smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption.[10]

  • The prescription of medications aimed at minimizing risk factors, reducing the severity of the symptoms or breaking the clots.[11]

  • Interventions such as placing a balloon or stent[12] in the blood vessels to dilate them in an effort to facilitate greater blood flow.

  • Surgical procedures such as coronary artery bypass grafting,[13] or heart valve surgery.



The importance of patient advocacy


Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine notes, “Healthcare advocates give patients and their families direct, customized assistance in navigating the healthcare system.”[14] Patient advocacy, therefore is a critical ingredient in managed-care assisted living environments like Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living; it is a cornerstone of our pledge to our residents, their families and loved ones: Care. Service. Advocacy.


Patient advocacy and the positive, necessary role it can play in rehabilitation and quality of life matters, is often overlooked.

The many layers in today’s healthcare system have created a real need for several types of healthcare advocacy, although such advocacy and the positive, necessary role it can play in rehabilitation and quality of life matters, is often overlooked. In fact, a Harvard Business Review analysis found that 52 percent of patients in the U.S. cannot navigate the healthcare system’s complexity without help.[15] Without the worries of fighting your way through the healthcare system, you are able to focus more completely on your well-being and your management and treatment necessities, knowing that an advocate is working on your behalf with your medical team, healthcare agencies and companies; monitoring and confirming medication needs, arranging for targeted care that addresses specific challenges; and more.


Key takeaway


Everyone seeks to live a happier and healthier life. The secret of your well-being lies in adopting a healthy lifestyle and saying a goodbye to unhealthy behaviors. It is always the best idea to get yourself checked up regularly by your doctor, who can keep you updated about the condition of your heart and blood vessels. He will also advise a plan to manage the risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, etc.


In short, adopting a healthy lifestyle and scheduling regular checkups are your best chance to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Stay healthy, and stay in touch with your doctor!


Disclaimer


The material presented on this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at info@deserthavenaz.com.



About the authors

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. A recognized leader in managed-care assisted living advocacy on behalf of the elderly, Zambakari provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.


Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC

Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens. She leads evidence-based caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the Desert Haven and Apollo residential communities’ residents.


[1] Pagidipati NJ, Gaziano TA. “Estimating deaths from cardiovascular disease: a review of global methodologies of mortality measurement.” Circulation. 2013;127(6):749-756. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.112.128413. [2] Papanicolas I, Woskie LR, Jha AK. “Health Care Spending in the United States and Other High-Income Countries.” [published correction appears in JAMA. 2018 May 1;319(17 ):1824]. JAMA. 2018;319(10):1024-1039. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.1150. [3] Fu DG. “Cardiac Arrhythmias: Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Cell Biochem Biophys. 2015;73(2):291-296. doi:10.1007/s12013-015-0626-4. [4] Champion HC. “The heart in scleroderma.” Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2008;34(1):181-viii. doi:10.1016/j.rdc.2007.12.002. [5] Sun PF, Ding GC, Zhang MY, He SN, Gao Y, Wang JH. “Prevalence of Congenital Heart Disease among Infants from 2012 to 2014 in Langfang, China.” China Med J (Engl). 2017;130(9):1069-1073. doi:10.4103/0366-6999.204923. [6] Zierler S. “Maternal drugs and congenital heart disease.” Obstet Gynecol. 1985;65(2):155-165. [7] Stone J, Hangge P, Albadawi H, et al. “Deep vein thrombosis: pathogenesis, diagnosis, and medical management.” Cardiovasc Diagn Ther. 2017;7(Suppl 3):S276-S284. doi:10.21037/cdt.2017.09.01. [8] Savarese G, Lund LH. “Global Public Health Burden of Heart Failure.” Card Fail Rev. 2017;3(1):7-11. doi:10.15420/cfr.2016:25:2 [9] Binotto M, Guilherme L, Tanaka A. “Rheumatic Fever.” Images Paediatr Cardiol. 2002;4(2):12-31. [10] Buttar HS, Li T, Ravi N. “Prevention of cardiovascular diseases: Role of exercise, dietary interventions, obesity and smoking cessation.” Exp Clin Cardiol. 2005;10(4):229-249. [11] Frishman WH. “Importance of medication adherence in cardiovascular disease and the value of once-daily treatment regimens.” Cardiol Rev. 2007;15(5):257-263. doi:10.1097/CRD.0b013e3180cabbe7. [12] Peters B, Ewert P, Berger F. “The role of stents in the treatment of congenital heart disease: Current status and future perspectives.” Ann Pediatr Cardiol. 2009;2(1):3-23. doi:10.4103/0974-2069.52802 [13] Weisse AB. “Cardiac surgery: a century of progress.” Tex Heart Inst J. 2011;38(5):486-490. [14] Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "Why Healthcare Advocacy is Important." March 1, 2021. https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/healthcare-advocacy/ (accessed June 21, 2021). [15] Ibid

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