Talking to your patients about heart disease

Heart Disease Overview

It no longer matters if your practice sees a majority of men or women, elderly or middle-aged individuals. Chances are high that a large percentage of your adult patients suffer from Coronary heart disease. In fact, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in most ethnic groups today. The cost of treating this disease exceeds $200 billion every year when the costs of medications, health care and lost or reduced productivity are factored in.

Who is at Risk?

Those who are at the highest risk for heart disease have several key factors in common. These are smoking, high LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Almost half of Americans today fall into at least one of these risk groups.

Several other factors are less common, but can still mean that patients are in a higher risk pool for this disease. They include:

  • Not getting enough physical activity.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Having Diabetes.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively.
  • Having poor eating habits.

One thing that physicians can do to help their patients is to encourage them toward a healthier lifestyle. Every little change that a patient makes in the right direction is a step away from heart disease.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Many people do not know that the complaints that they come to see a doctor about may actually be early symptoms of heart disease. Some of these may include a feeling of occasional lightheadedness, a heartbeat that races or seems to go much too slowly or even an inability to catch their breath. Educating patients about the risks and damage that may be happening in their cardiovascular system can help to reduce the symptoms, but may also help patients begin a healthier lifestyle in order to prevent further damage.

What Kind of Testing Might be Needed

Reviewing a patient’s medical history, family history, and risk factors, as well as performing a physical exam can help doctors make the diagnosis of heart disease. Explaining the different types of tests to your patients can help to ease any anxiety they might feel as you work to determine the extent of damage that may already have happened. It may help to provide patients simple explanations of the testing processes that they may need to complete. Here are some examples of explanations that may help to put your patient at ease:

  • Echocardiography – This test helps the doctor to see the size and shape of your heart as it uses sound waves to produce a moving picture. The doctor will also be able to evaluate if your valves and chambers are working as they should.
  • Blood Tests – A blood test can result in a lot of important information about a patient’s heart disease. Any abnormal levels of sugar, proteins, cholesterol or iron give more information about the patient’s heart health.
  • EKG – This painless test allows doctors to record and review the electrical activity in the heart. Any abnormal rhythm would typically be found with this type of test.
  • Coronary Angiography and Cardiac Catheterization – During this test, a special dye is injected into the coronary arteries. Once the dye is flowing freely, x rays can be taken. The pictures of how the dye flows through the arteries helps the doctor to see how the blood is flowing through and around the heart.
  • Stress Test – This type of test is actually given by tracking patient heart rate and blood pressure while they are exercising. At times, it may also be beneficial to take pictures of the heart during exercise to gain additional information.

Once the diagnosis of heart disease is made, physicians have the responsibility of deciding which types of testing will be most beneficial for their patients.

Encouraging Lifestyle Changes

In cases where signs of early heart disease are present, and where there is little family history to suggest that there will be rapid advancement, patients should be encouraged to begin a more healthy lifestyle. This plan should include regular physical exercise that increases in difficulty as the patient becomes more capable. It should also include a diet plan that will help the patient know what foods can help them to live a longer healthier life. Dietitians can be helpful in setting up this type of food plan. Regular health screenings should also be considered part of this lifestyle change so that a physician can chart any positive or negative changes to the patient’s condition.

Available Medications

Each step physicians can take toward the diagnosis, education, prevention or treatment of heart disease can help to lower the startlingly high statistics on heart disease.

Many patients who have been diagnosed with heart disease may also benefit from medications such as ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and cholesterol-lowering drugs. Having an in-house pharmacy means that your patients will be able to get those prescriptions quickly and easily, and that they will run less risk of having unwanted drug interactions. With the help of an experienced in office dispensing program provider, your dispensing services can add another layer of assistance to patients suffering from heart disease.

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