For many people, keeping your heart and arteries as healthy as possible is a two-part process involving prevention and treatment. Whether you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or wish to minimize your risk factors, your doctors and other healthcare providers can work with you to identify the best choices for you among a range of treatment and prevention options.
You may think of prevention as doing everything you can to avoid getting cardiovascular disease in the first place. That’s one form of prevention, but there is also another form of prevention aimed at controlling the cardiovascular disease. Essentially, there are two types of prevention:
- Primary prevention, where the goal is to stop or slow cardiovascular disease before an event such as a heart attack or stroke; and
- Secondary prevention, where the goal is to prevent a repeat event in a patient who has already had a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular problem.
Preventing an initial or repeat cardiovascular event is a team effort among you, your physician, and other medical professionals. Lifestyle changes, such as incorporating physical activity and eating a heart-healthy diet, are central to prevention. Additionally, you may be prescribed medications to prevent a heart attack or stroke. And you will certainly need to take medications if you have already had a heart attack or stroke.
Options for Treatment
If your condition, symptoms, medical and family health history, and test results indicate you already have cardiovascular disease, your healthcare providers may recommend a range of treatment options:
- Lifestyle changes: Heart-healthy changes to your diet, a personalized strategy for getting physically active, or a plan for giving up smoking and other forms of tobacco can all contribute to cardiovascular health.
- Medical therapy: Tremendous progress has been made with new medications that reverse, stabilize, or slow the progress of some forms of cardiovascular disease.
- Interventions: In recent years, physicians have developed and perfected a number of minimally invasive procedures that save lives and provide relief for symptoms of cardiovascular disease. For example, angioplasty and stenting can now be used to treat blockages in blood vessels leading to the heart, brain, legs, and kidneys.
- Surgery: There are many surgical approaches to treating cardiovascular conditions. You may be most familiar with cardiac bypass graft surgery.
The Spectrum of Care and How Your Healthcare Providers Make Treatment Recommendations
Treatment and prevention are both part of what is called the spectrum of care. What this means is that the severity of your condition determines which treatment or prevention options will be most effective for you: lifestyle changes, medical therapy, interventions, or surgery.
You can think of these treatment options as building on one another. For example,
- If you have only risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your healthcare providers may recommend managing them through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.
- If you have risk factors and early signs of cardiovascular disease, you may need a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
- If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, you might need a revascularization procedure to restore blood flow through the blood vessel, followed by ongoing medication and lifestyle changes.
Your doctor and other healthcare providers will work with you to determine where you fall within this spectrum of care. Delivering the best cardiovascular care for each individual patient requires your healthcare team to apply both science and art - combining research-based guidelines with experience in treating patients, each with unique circumstances. The goal is always to deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time. You can help your healthcare providers by being informed, asking questions, and answering their questions as fully as possible.