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Heart Disease Treatment Methods

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/27/2010

Heart disease affects millions of people each year, making it necessary to have several options for heart disease treatment. While these methods treat heart disease and reduce the risk of complications, they do have risks.

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    Balloon Angioplasty

    During balloon angioplasty for heart disease treatment, an interventional cardiologist threads a catheter through one of the arteries. The catheter is a thin, flexible tube that has a small balloon at the tip. When the tip of the catheter reaches the site of an arterial blockage, the cardiologist inflates the balloon. This flattens arterial plaque against the artery wall, removing the blockage and reducing complications. This procedure does have several risks. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute indicates that balloon angioplasty can cause blood vessel damage, irregular heartbeat, bleeding from the insertion site, allergic reaction to the dye used during the procedure, heart attack, kidney damage from the contrast dye and stroke. Women, people with diabetes or kidney disease, people with extensive heart disease and people over the age of 75 have a greater risk for these complications.

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    Stenting is another procedure used to relieve artery blockages. The stent consists of a device made of mesh and wire. During a balloon angioplasty, a cardiologist places it inside a coronary artery to keep the blood vessel open. This reduces chest pain and improves blood flow to the heart. After this surgery, a doctor may prescribe blood thinners to prevent blood clots from forming around the stent. Metal detectors do not interfere with the stents, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is contraindicated for four weeks after the placement of this device. The major risks of stents are blood clots and narrowing of the artery.

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    Heart Valve Surgery

    Cardiologists perform heart valve surgery when a valve does not close properly or cannot open all the way. Both of these problems cause problems with the blood flow through the chambers of the heart. During heart valve surgery, a cardiologist repairs or replaces the damaged valve. Types of replacement valves include mechanical valves, human donor valves, pig heart valves and cow heart valves. The heart cannot beat during this type of surgery, so the surgical team uses a heart-lung machine to keep blood flowing to other parts of the body. Risks of this surgery include bleeding, infection, heart attack, irregular heartbeat, stroke, kidney failure and blood clots in the legs, according to MedlinePlus.

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    Cardioversion involves the delivery of an electrical shock to the heart. This causes abnormal heart rhythms caused by atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disturbances. In emergency situations, physicians use this procedure to treat abnormal heartbeats that cause chest pain, loss of consciousness, fainting, chest pain, trouble breathing and fainting. Chemical cardioversion involves the use of medications to restore normal heart rhythms. Electrical cardioversion involves the delivery of an electrical shock via electrodes or paddles placed on the chest. Risks of this procedure include abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots and skin burns.

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    Learn How Doctors Treat Heart Disease: Information on Minimally-Invasive, Non-Surgical and Surgical Heart Disease Treatment MethodsBecause heart conditions have serious risks, doctors treat heart disease to minimize the risk of stroke , heart attack, chest pain and other complications. Some of the procedures used to treat this condition are minimally-invasive, but others require extensive surgery and recovery times.
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    Bypass Surgery

    Heart bypass surgery involves rerouting blood around arteries that contain blockages. This increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart and improves blood flow. During this procedure, a surgeon detaches an artery from the chest wall and attached to the coronary artery below the blocked artery. The surgeon may also use a long piece of vein. Nurses and other medical professionals monitor patients closely after this procedure. Patients usually stay in the hospital for 4 to 6 days after the procedure, according to the American Heart Association. Recovery from bypass involves a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and increased physical activity as recommended by a doctor. Bypass risks include chest wound infection, heart rhythm disturbances, heart attack, stroke and mental confusion.

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    Heart Transplant

    During a heart transplant for heart disease treatment, a surgeon removes the damaged heart of a patient and replaces it with the healthy heart of a donor. Finding a donor is often difficult, as the donor heart must match the recipient’s tissue type closely to prevent organ rejection. During the surgical procedure, the surgeon removes the disease heart and stitches the donor heart in its place. A heart-lung bypass machine circulates blood during the procedure so oxygen gets to other parts of the body. After the transplant heart is sewn in place, the surgeon may insert tubes to drain fluid and air out of the chest. Risks of heart bypass include kidney damage, heart attack, heart rhythm problems, deep vein thrombosis, wound infections and liver damage.

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    Heart Ablation

    Non-surgical ablation and surgical ablation treat heart rhythm disorders. Non-surgical ablation involves the insertion of a catheter into the heart. A machine sends energy to the heart muscle, which stops abnormal rhythms. Types of surgical ablation include the Maze procedure, modified Maze procedure and minimally-invasive ablation. During the Maze procedure, a surgeon cuts into the heart and interrupts the abnormal heart rhythm. After the procedure, scar tissue forms, blocking the abnormal electrical impulses from traveling through the chambers of the heart. During the modified Maze procedure, the surgeon only makes one cut in the left atrium of the heart. Minimally-invasive ablation involves the use of an endoscope and several small incisions.

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    WebMD: Procedures and Surgeries for Heart Disease

    Texas Heart Institute: Balloon Angioplasty and Stents

    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What Are the Risks of Coronary Angioplasty?

    American Heart Association: Stent Procedure

    University of Southern California: A Patient's Guide to Heart Surgery: Heart Valve Surgery

    MedlinePlus: Heart Valve Surgery

    Heart Rhythm Society: Cardioversion Cardioversion Risks

    American Heart Association: Bypass Surgery, Coronary Artery

    MedlinePlus: Heart Bypass Surgery

    MedlinePlus: Heart Transplant

    WebMD: Treating Arrhythmias With Ablation