Area hospitals, patients team up against number one killer
BY MARILYN OLSON For Sun-Times Media
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. | FILE PHOTO
Find out fast
Your area hospital has a program to assess your risks.
Edward Hospital, Naperville: Heart Aware Center, offering ultra-fast screening programs, usually taking 15 minutes or less. The hospital also does stroke and vascular screenings. An online heart risk assessment is also available.
Provena Mercy Medical Center, Sister Rita Heart Center, Aurora: Heart Scan and Score for risk assessment and a full compliment of screenings.
Rush Copley Medical Center, Aurora: Offers a Heart Score program using a 64-slice CT scan, offering faster and more precise screenings.
Heart disease is a formidable enemy. According to the American Heart Association, there is one cardiac event every 25 seconds, and one of those people dies every minute.
Cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the number one killer in the U.S. and in Illinois. The latest Illinois figures of the American Heart Association (AHA), found that 34,054 deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease in a year, or 33 percent of all deaths. An estimated 82.6 million American adults, more than one in three, have one or more types of heart disease. Almost half are under the age of 60.
Medical professionals battle more than numbers. For one thing, heart disease has been traditionally regarded as a “man’s disease,” a belief aided by the fact that women’s symptoms sometimes differ from those of men. Prevention — a major ally — also is a difficult to bring into the fight because it means making changes, sometimes major, in a person’s habits and lifestyle.
But when heart disease strikes, area residents have an impressive arsenal in their fight against this killer. From risk assessments to diagnostics to treatment options, area hospitals and physicians can provide highly-skilled care and state-of-the-art technology to help return patients to their normal lives as quickly as possible.
Assessing the risk
Clearly, prevention is the best way to “treat” heart disease, but if necessary, there are numerous treatment options available today.
“Prevention is truly worth its weight in gold,” said Dr. Courtney Virgilio, Medical Director of Non-invasive Cardiac Diagnostics at Rush Copley, Aurora. “We offer a full spectrum of diagnostic imaging, all individually tailored to the needs of each patient. Unique to us, we are the only center with a nationally accredited women’s center, dedicated to women and cardiac issues. We have a Women’s Heart Symposium annually, featuring an entire day of education for our medical staff on women and heart disease we also offer a community program for women and heart disease.”
People play an important role in the prevention of heart disease, through diet, exercise and stress control. Screenings include baseline blood tests, a calcium score CT to measure calcium build-up in arteries, and more.
Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora participates in the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women program, including a 12-week program to improve heart health. Kevin Roesch, Director of Cardiac and Pulmonary Services, said women show less of the classic symptoms, and tend to take longer to get medical treatment for heart disease.
“We had a cardiac department employee here who thought she had a case of the flu and took a full day to get to the hospital,” Roesch said. “She was having a heart attack. Men tend to get treated earlier, and that gives them better chances to recover.”
Testing, treatment are better
Improvement of the use of stents to open blocked arteries has meant fewer patients need open heart surgery to bypass closed arteries. Today, only about 1 percent of patients find they need open heart surgery.
Heart disease patients benefit from the latest in treatment options and technology at Edward Hospital. Dr. Mark Goodwin, Director of Cardiac Catheterization Lab and member of Midwest Heart Specialists Advocate Medical Group, said Edward is participating in several national and international studies that offer treatment options usually not found outside the largest hospitals.
“Now we can open arteries through new technology and equipment that was not possible even a few years ago,” Goodwin said. “Called CTO, or chronic total occlusion, in the past we had to do open heart bypass surgery to open these arteries. Today we can do it with less invasive stenting and angioplasty. We simply thread a tiny stent up through the artery in the groin and into the heart and open the clogged artery, without the major surgery of open heart bypass surgery.”
Edward also uses a drug coated balloon catheter to open arteries, which helps prohibit reclosing of the artery.
“Called the ‘Lovant trial,’ this is a great way to open an artery, and keep it open,” Goodwin said.
“One of the most exciting things in medicine is the use of ablation, or killing the nerve endings in an artery with heat, radio, or cold, to treat high blood pressure that does not respond to medication,” Goodwin said. “We have used ablation to treat irregular heart beat, and now use the same procedure in the artery to the kidney and it works to control high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease.”
Called the Simplicity Trial, Edward just treated its first patient with this technique.
“We also do aortic artery transplants, without the open heart surgery, on those who are not good surgical candidates,” Goodwin said.
After a “cardiac event,” most insurance companies cover a series of outpatient cardiac rehab classes. Phase I rehab occurs in the hospital, with the intent to make the patient ready to return home. Phase II rehab is done on an outpatient basis, with patients spending about an hour a day, three days a week, on exercise equipment while carefully monitored by medical personnel. A component of education on lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise and stress control, is usually included.
Patients who participate in cardiac rehab have been found to do better.
Healthy hearts, looking ahead
There has been encouraging progress in prevention and treatment of heart disease, but the future offers even more advances in the fight against this killer. Provena Mercy Medical Center’s Roesch said stem cell research looks promising.
“We are looking at the use of adult stem cells to try to replace damaged cells in the heart and arteries,” he said. “We may be able to grow replacement blood vessels.”
“Medicine is always advancing,” said Dr. Virgilio of Rush Copley. “Only 20 years ago we didn’t have stents to open arteries. If you had a cardiac problem, you became a cardiac invalid. Today, stents can stop a heart attack and reduce heart muscle damage. And we are learning even more about medications, including statin drugs to control cholesterol, a cause of heart disease. But we are seeing younger and younger patients, with the increase in obesity and diabetes.”
“A trend seems to be fewer and fewer people are smoking, and that helps prevent heart disease,” said Goodwin. “But as people are living longer, it creates a situation where we are treating older people. People are living longer with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, so we see long-term affects of these conditions. We are also understanding that heart disease affects women as much as men.”
Heart transplants and assistive pumps used to help a heart function are also seen more today.
“We can buy patients more time as they await a heart transplant through the use of a mechanical device inside the heart to help it pump,” Goodwin said. “Called L-VAD, this device is placed inside the heart.”
Heart disease is a formidable enemy, but modern medicine is effectively fighting to make it a controllable enemy. Heart patients are living long and productive lives with the help of medical professionals and hospitals.