The heart, a vital organ responsible for pumping life-giving blood throughout the body, is often referred to as the “engine” that keeps us going. Despite its essential role, heart health is often overlooked until issues arise. Fortunately, advances in cardiac surgery and preventive measures offer the opportunity to take charge of your heart health and ensure a longer, healthier life.
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Understanding the Importance of Heart Health
“Heart disease remains a leading cause of death worldwide,” says Dr. Todd Rosengart, heart surgeon and professor and chair of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. “In fact, according to the CDC, one person dies every 33 seconds from heart disease.”
Heart disease encompasses a range of conditions, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias and heart failure. While genetics can influence susceptibility to heart issues, lifestyle choices play a significant role in determining the overall health of your heart.
Prevention: A Cornerstone of Heart Health
Prevention is your first line of defense when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. “Small changes in your daily routines can have a profound impact on your cardiovascular well-being,” says Rosengart.
Here are some key preventive measures, according to Rosengart:
- Healthy Diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats can reduce the risk of heart disease. Minimizing processed foods, excessive sugar and trans fats can also be important as they contribute to heart-related problems.
- Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, improves circulation and helps manage weight. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week.
- Tobacco and Alcohol: Smoking damages blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease. Likewise, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure. Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake are essential for heart health.
- Stress Management: Chronic stress contributes to heart disease. Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga and deep breathing can help lower stress levels and improve heart health.
- Regular Checkups: Routine medical checkups allow for the early detection and management of risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Cardiac Surgery: Advances and Breakthroughs
“While prevention is key to heart health, sometimes medical intervention is necessary,” says Rosengart. “Luckily, cardiac surgery has witnessed remarkable advancements over the years, allowing for improved outcomes and better quality of life for patients. Some of these advancements include robotic surgery for coronary bypass and valve surgery performed through small incisions and “trans-arterial valve replacement” (TAVR) performed over a wire that is placed through an artery in the leg, both of which minimize the invasiveness of surgery and speed recovery.”
Some common heart procedures include:
- Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG): This surgery involves bypassing blocked or narrowed coronary arteries using blood vessels from other parts of the body. CABG restores blood flow to the heart muscle, relieving chest pain and reducing the risk of heart attacks.
- Heart Valve Replacement: Damaged or malfunctioning heart valves can be replaced with mechanical or biological prosthetics. These surgeries restore proper blood flow and prevent complications like heart failure.
- Minimally Invasive Procedures: Technological advancements have led to minimally invasive cardiac surgeries including robotic heart surgery, which result in smaller incisions, reduced pain and quicker recovery times.
- Transplantation: In cases of severe heart failure, heart transplantation offers a chance for a new lease on life. Organ transplant procedures have improved, increasing survival rates and enhancing post-transplant quality of life.
“Remember, our hearts work tirelessly to keep us alive – it’s our responsibility to reciprocate by taking care of them,” says Rosengart. “By combining preventive measures with the advancements in cardiac surgery, we can ensure a healthier and happier life for ourselves and our loved ones.”
By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery