hen Mark Bird was in his mid-60s, he was diagnosed with
atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a heart rhythm disorder that affects
nearly 5 million people in the U.S. It happens when the top
two chambers of the heart start beating erratically, according
to Kent E. Morris, M.D., electrophysiologist, Norton Heart Specialists. It can
cause blood flow to stagnate in the heart, which puts the person at risk for stroke.
Bird’s cardiologist told him about catheter ablation, a
minimally invasive procedure that stops A-fib and improves
quality of life for many people. He was hesitant at first when
faced with the prospect of surgery.
“It was a little unnerving to think about taking a person who is
otherwise feeling fine and push them off a cliff, only to save them
before they hit the bottom — that’s how I felt,” he said.
Bird tried taking medications before considering the ablation procedure, but in his case surgery was
the best option. Dr. Morris said most people go this route first, but often eventually need surgery
when the medication no longer works.
“You owe it to yourself to go through this procedure,” Bird said. “It can mean the difference
between hiding from your life and living your life.”
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. One-half of men and
two-thirds of women who die suddenly from heart disease had no previous symptoms, according to the American
Michael Shugart decided at age 52 that he didn’t want to become another statistic. He was about 25 pounds overweight and had high blood pressure and high cholesterol — all modifiable risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease can run in families, so it’s helpful to know whether parents, siblings or other relatives have a history of heart attack, aneurysm or stroke. Shugart didn’t know his family’s medical history, so he decided to undergo vascular screening.
Unlike cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, who focus mainly on the arteries within the heart, vascular surgeons deal with circulatory pathways throughout the body.
The two main types of artery damage vascular specialists see are plaque buildup, which creates blockages, and aneurysms, which can cause catastrophic ruptures. Treatments range from lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising and managing diabetes, to starting a prescription drug regimen or having surgery for more severe cases.
Like Shugart, you can plan for better health by knowing your risks. It’s time to see your primary care provider if you
have unexplained leg pain, varicose veins or a family history of cardiovascular disease. Other signs that you might need testing and intervention include an abnormal pulse, abnormal results from vascular lab tests and slow-healing wounds on the legs.
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