The number of people who are treated and saved after heart attacks has wildly risen in the past couple decades. This is largely thanks to improving technology and medical research which helps us analyse data in order to help us understand what works and what doesn’t. Technology now allows us to enter the arteries through the leg or the arm, get a wire to the heart and see the insides of our blood vessels within 90 minutes of coming to the hospital! Doctors can then use the wires to open up clogged arteries, place stents in order to try and keep them open, understand the degree of disease, and so much more. Great, right?!
There’s a huge element of this whole operation which is very poorly understood by patients and the general public. Did these cardiologists cure the disease? Can I go back to enjoying life as I did before my heart attack? Let’s understand these questions. Even if you didn’t have a heart attack though, this is still very relevant to understand, keep reading.
I was treated in the hospital for a heart attack, did they cure the disease?
Most heart attacks are the result of a vascular (blood vessel) disease called atherosclerosis. This is a disease in which the wall of blood vessels start accumulating plaque, and start changing the thickness of the walls. This can start in people as young as 16 years old, and it does for most, though progress largely unnoticed for a few decades. However as this plaque grows, it can rupture causing a hole in the internal lining of the blood vessel. When a rupture happens, blood platelets jump on the opportunity to fix the problem, creating a blood clot. This is a natural response designed to help you stop bleeding, though as a side effect they can sometimes block the blood flow past that point. This is what happens in a heart attack. The coronary blood vessel which provides blood to the heart gets blocked due to the rupture of a plaque which has been growing almost your whole life, and a blood clot forms to repair the damage, inadvertently blocking the flow to a portion of your heart which then suffers.
The disease is the plaque growing in the wall of the blood vessel. It is present all over your body, and if someone has a heart attack it is only a symptom of this disease. The catheterisation (wire going through the vessels) process in the hospital can open the clot restoring the blood flow to the rest of your heart, but it by no means cures the disease. Other plaques are growing, also at risk of rupture.
What should be done about this?
This is the main question that needs to be asked, and this is question that is missed the most. The number of people dying from heart attacks has been reduced thanks to technology, though the number of recurrences and hospitalised patients who have had heart attacks in the past has not changed. A heart attack is a sign that you need to wake up, but you don’t need to wait for a near death experience to get the message.
Cardiac rehabilitation – the answer.
Cardiac rehabilitation means making a huge change on your body and health, with the help of a number of people and professionals, however there is one person who needs to lead this charge, and that’s you. There was once a thought that after heart attacks people need bed rest, to exert themselves as little as possible. They were even spoon fed in the hospital so they didn’t have to raise an arm, but today we know that this is not the best treatment. Although I won’t go into depth about what exactly cardiac rehabilitation includes, it’s important to understand that all elements are important including lifestyle changes, smoking cessation, medication, monitored physical activity, psychological and psychiatric assistance, and more.
The most important thing to understand from this article:
The vast majority of medication, or hospital management of chronic disease is intended to control symptoms, acute flares but they by no means cure the disease. The only way to cure the disease is to take yourself seriously, and start treating yourself properly with the necessary exercise, diet changes, meditation and stress reducing exercise, and whatever else you might need. Specifically there are centres that offer this all in one package with cardiac rehabilitation, but it is also there for other diseases as well for things like diabetes, smoking cessation, etc. Find these programs, or ask your GP about them to help locate them, and start taking yourself seriously. If you would want a loved one to do this for themselves, you should treat yourself as someone you love as well.