At one time, little could be done for people with heart disorders, and for those who suffered from a heart attack. Today, improved medicines and new methods of treatment allow many cardiac (heart) patients to live normal or nearly normal lives. Also, new kinds of equipment and new methods of performing heart operations have saved the lives of many people for whom there was formerly no hope.
The arteries of older people may become hardened or narrowed. This may be serious if it happens in the coronary arteries, for the blood supply of the heart is cut down. Severe chest pain may result. A heart attack occurs if the heart muscle is deprived of its blood supply. The heart muscle may be permanently damaged and replaced with scar tissue. Most people who have heart attacks recover. They must rest for several weeks or more, but they can usually then lead normal lives.
A heart whose muscle has been badly damaged cannot do a good job of pumping the blood. This condition is called heart failure. With this condition, fluid collects in some parts of the body, such as the lungs and ankles.
Doctors have a large variety of medicines and other treatments for dealing with heart disorders. A drug named digitalis is given to strengthen weak heart muscles. Drugs called Diuretics help to rid the body of excess fluid by way of the kidneys.
Diet is usually an important part of the treatment of cardiac patients. The doctor may prescribe a diet that is low in salt content. This is because fluids tend to collect in the body in the presence of salt. The heart must work harder to pump the extra fluids. The doctor often advises a patient to lose weight. The heart of an overweight patient must work harder to pump blood to the extra, unneeded body tissue. A low-fat diet may be prescribed because of a possible connection between fats and the hardening of the arteries. Patients are also advised not to smoke. Smoking is a cause of serious lung diseases, and it also appears to increase the risk of getting some kinds of heart disease.
The beating heart provides the pressure to move the blood along the blood vessels. When the space within the smaller arteries is narrowed, as may happen in older people, the heart must push harder to make the blood move. This results in high blood pressure. Drugs are used that cause the arteries to relax and thus lower the blood pressure. Other drugs bring about a lowering of the pressure by their effect on the nerves that control the small arteries.
The rate of the heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses from the nervous system. These impulses set the pace for the heartbeat. Sometimes the impulses may cause an irregular beat or one that is too fast or too slow. Usually, this is a temporary condition. If the problem is a serious one, an artificial pacemaker is set into the heart painlessly. The pacemaker is powered by a tiny battery that lasts for years. The life-saving pacemaker supplies electrical impulses to the heart, causing it to beat regularly and at a satisfactory rate.
Medical and surgical skills have saved or prolonged millions of lives. But some hearts are so badly damaged that they cannot be repaired. The first heart transplant was performed in December 1967, and we’ve come a long way since then. Take care of yourself. Your family loves you.