This lesson will describe the many different ways cardiovascular diseases can be diagnosed and treated. For example, you'll learn the differences between angioplasty and angiography.
Fixing a Problem
Some people just have a really great knack for fixing things around the home and at work. They can just look at a problem, like a broken desk, and quickly figure out what the problem is and then how to deal with it. While medicine doesn't 'fix' things, per se, we can diagnose and treat disease in a fundamentally similar way to a handyman. First, we must analyze the problem using diagnostic testing, and once we've established a diagnosis, we can more appropriately and safely tailor treatment to a specific problem in order to try to minimize it or, in some cases, even absolve the patient of it.
Diagnosing Cardiovascular Disease
With respect to cardiovascular disease, there are many tools in a doctor's tool belt, if you will, for diagnosing cardiovascular disease. We'll cover some big ones in this lesson.
The first is known as a radiograph, or more commonly, an X-ray. You know what this is; it's the thing that can see right through your clothing and skin to produce a black and white image of internal structures. One of these structures is the heart, which in some cases of heart disease may be really big, immediately pointing to a problem.
But X-rays aren't always diagnostic. Some cardiovascular issues are just too subtle for an X-ray. Therefore, we can sometimes use advanced imaging modalities, or techniques, to diagnose a problem. These include:
- A CT scan: this is a procedure that takes many X-ray slices through a person in order to come up with a very detailed and even a 3D image of the heart or blood vessels.
- An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, which is a procedure that uses a magnetic field to peer inside the body.
- Angiography, a procedure where a dye is injected into the blood vessels in order to visualize them. The dye that's injected is able to be visualized thanks to X-rays.
- Ultrasound, a medical imaging technique that uses sound waves to peer into the body. If you've ever seen those movies where they show a baby moving inside the womb, that happens thanks to ultrasound. Doctors also use it to see what the heart is doing inside the body.
- And, finally, an electrocardiogram (ECG), a procedure that measures and plots the electrical activity of the heart on paper or a computer screen. This procedure is very useful because it helps to pinpoint the exact electrical problem occurring in the heart and how best to treat it.
Treating Cardiovascular Disease
Once these and many other diagnostic techniques are used to help diagnose the cardiovascular disease or its causes, then the doctor must decide on the most appropriate treatment plan for the patient. As you can only imagine, there are a ton of different medications and procedures that are used to treat cardiovascular diseases, so we'll cover as many of the more famous or important ones as we can.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is managed with everything from dietary modification (meaning decreasing the intake of salt) to medication such as ACE inhibitors, which are drugs that help to lower blood pressure. People suffering from coronary heart disease can take statins to lower cholesterol. Those who have arrhythmias of the heart can take medication to stop these potentially dangerous things, such as beta blockers.
But not every kind of cardiovascular issue can be treated with medication. It's kind of like having a broken leg. You will need medication, but the reality is that you'll likely need surgery as well. As with broken bones, a broken heart may also need surgical intervention.
One pretty cool-looking one is an angioplasty, a medical procedure where a tube with a balloon is used to open up a blocked artery. The tube is inserted into an artery and once it is positioned in the blocked space, the balloon is inflated to open up the artery. Other surgical procedures include heart bypass surgery, where a blood vessel is removed from one part of your body to be used as a new route for blood flow around a blocked area. It's like a detour on a highway, but for your heart.
The heart may have other issues such as septal defects, or holes, in the heart that are closed through open heart surgery. Or, some people have problems with their heart valves and, therefore, may need to undergo a valve replacement surgery. As an important point here, surgery isn't always a cure-all for problems as medication and surgery are many times combined. In valve replacement surgery, the risk of forming a blood clot on the valve increases and, therefore, blood thinning medication will be given to the patient after surgery.
This lesson should have taught you some of the many ways by which we diagnose and treat the plethora of cardiovascular diseases out there. To diagnose a cardiovascular disease we can use:
- A radiograph, or more commonly, an X-ray.
- A CT scan.
- An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging.
- Angiography, a procedure where a dye is injected into the blood vessels in order to visualize them.
- Ultrasound, a medical imaging technique that uses sound waves to peer into the body.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG), a procedure that measures and plots the electrical activity of the heart on paper or a computer screen.
Once diagnosed, we can use many different medicines and surgical techniques to help the patient. As an example, ACE inhibitors can be used to treat hypertension. Angioplasty, a medical procedure where a tube with a balloon is used to open up a blocked artery, can be used with people who have clogged arteries, or they may need heart bypass surgery instead.
Once you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the different ways that cardiovascular disease can be diagnosed
- Describe different treatment options for cardiovascular disease