How Is Heart Disease Treated?

Heart disease (also called cardiovascular disease) is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., with more than 600,000 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease each year, which equals one in every four deaths in America.1

Despite these grim statistics, there are actually a number of effective treatments for heart disease. Learn more in this guide about some common heart disease treatment options.

Nurse checks the blood pressure of her patient

How do you treat heart disease?

Heart disease comes in many forms, so the appropriate type of treatment will depend largely on what specific type of cardiovascular disease you have, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias or other conditions.

Treatments for heart disease typically fall into one of two categories: Medications or surgery/interventions.

Prescription medications

Some of the medications typically used to treat heart disease include:

  • ACE inhibitors widen blood vessels. This can help increase the amount of blood pumped by the heart and lower blood pressure.

  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers decrease the number of certain hormones that are known to narrow blood vessels. This helps your blood to flow more easily and decreases the buildup of salt and fluid in your blood vessels.

  • Antiarrhythmics treat abnormal heart rhythms (called arrhythmias) that are caused by any irregular activity in the heart.  

  • Antiplatelets help prevent the formation of blood clots.

  • Aspirin can be used to prevent and manage heart disease and strokes.

  • Beta-blockers treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

  • Calcium channel blockers relax blood vessels, reduce the heart’s workload and boost the supply of oxygen and blood to the heart.

  • Thrombolytics, or clot busters, find and break up blood clots.

  • Digoxin helps a weak or injured heart work more efficiently by affecting sodium and potassium inside your heart cells.

  • Diuretics, or water pills, help the body rid itself of excess water and salt by increasing urination. In turn, the heart has an easier time pumping and controlling blood pressure.

  • Nitrates treat angina in people with coronary artery disease and alleviate chest pain caused by blocked blood vessels in the heart.

  • Blood thinners treat some types of heart disease by helping prevent blood clots from forming.

Surgery and other interventions

When medications aren’t enough to properly treat heart disease, surgery or other treatments may be necessary.

  • Stents are small tubes placed in arteries that help supply blood to the heart and keep arteries open.   

  • Angioplasty (also called percutaneous coronary intervention) is a procedure where heart arteries are cut open to release blocking.

  • Heart bypass surgery provides a new pathway for blood to reach the heart.

  • Balloon valvuloplasty, or aortic valvuloplasty, utilizes an inflated balloon to help open up a heart valve and improve blood flow.   

  • Cardioversion sends electric shocks to your heart through electrodes that are placed on the chest.

  • Enhanced External Counter Pulsation (EECP) helps blood vessels develop branches that provide blood a bypass around blocked or narrowed arteries. EECP treatment involves using blood pressure cuffs that are put onto your lower and upper legs that massage and compress the blood vessels in your legs.

  • Pacemakers are small devices implanted in the chest that send electrical pulses to the heart muscle to maintain a healthy rate and rhythm.

  • An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, is a device implanted under the skin that monitors your heart rate and delivers an electric shock to the heart if it begins beating erratically.

  • Lead extraction is the removal of leads, or small wires, from inside the heart. Leads are used with pacemakers and ICDs and sometimes may need to be extracted if there is an infection, damage or buildup of scar tissue.

  • A left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, is a mechanical heart that is implanted in the chest to assist your actual heart.

  • Heart transplants involve removing the heart and replacing it with another healthy heart taken from a recently deceased donor.

Can heart disease be cured by lifestyle changes?

Heart disease may be treated the old-fashioned way with some general lifestyle changes.

In fact, you may be able to help manage the symptoms of heart disease and reduce your risk for future complications if you make some of the following healthy choices:

  • Incorporate some exercise into your daily routine, such as walking, swimming or joining a wellness program. In fact, some fitness programs such as SilverSneakers are covered by most Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C).

  • Eat a diet of heart-healthy foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Many Medicare Advantage plans offer healthy food options, and some plans even cover home meal delivery.

  • Quit smoking or using other tobacco products.

Speak with your doctor to find out what heart disease treatment option is right for you.

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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not healthcare advice. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your specific healthcare needs.

1 CDC. Heart Disease Facts. (Updated Nov. 28, 2017). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.

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