In my cardiology practice, I have a unique vantage point into the lives of those who serve as caregivers to others suffering from cardiovascular diseases. The role they play in the longevity and overall physical and mental health of patients cannot be overstated.
Caregivers for those who suffer from coronary artery disease, or CAD, face a unique set of circumstances. Aside from the physical symptoms that patients with CAD may face, like chest pain and shortness of breath, I’ve found that there’s a great mental need these patients require to be informed of the latest information to help with motivation and assurance. In my experience, I’ve found that caregivers who are informed about their loved one’s illness or condition will be better equipped to provide this motivation and manage caregiving responsibilities more effectively and lovingly. To that end, there are three key things I recommend that all caregivers understand.
First and foremost, caregivers can encourage those with CAD to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle.
This is critical, and if a patient has not been maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, it’s time they start. My top suggestions for encouraging someone to have a heart healthy lifestyle are:
1. Keep their blood pressure under control.
For most people the goal should be a reading of 140/85 or less. Have it checked regularly by a physician. Ways to keep blood pressure in check include eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep every night (7+ hours), managing stress levels and exercising regularly.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Excess weight can be a predictor of a cardiac event and can lead to additional complications like diabetes. Implementing a healthier lifestyle that includes eating more fruits and vegetables and following a regular schedule of exercise can lead to a healthier heart.
3. Don’t smoke.
Smoking can damage the lining of the arteries, making your loved one more susceptible to heart disease. No amount of smoke exposure is considered safe.
4. Be gentle and compassionate.
When encouraging someone to adopt this new heart healthy lifestyle, understand it may be a significant change that they may resist. Often times, it helps to have a partner who follows the same practices – this can be an excellent time for you to do the same!
5. Keep an eye on and understand the current technological advances in treating CAD.
Knowledge is power, and it’s important to understand and grasp the treatments available to the CAD patient. For instance, one of the goals of treatment for CAD is to widen or bypass the clogged arteries – a characteristic of CAD – to increase the flow of blood to the heart. There are a range of common treatments, including angioplasty, or surgical repair or unblocking of a blood vessel, heart bypass surgery, and antiplatelet drugs to prevent the formation of clots.
One of the more common treatments for CAD include stents – small expandable mesh tubes that serve as scaffolding for the blocked artery – which have been used for decades to open narrowed arteries and help reduce symptoms such as chest pain or to prevent a heart attack. The evolution of stents has been amazing as just within the last year, the FDA approved the SYNERGY™ Everolimus-Eluting Platinum Chromium Coronary Stent System which features an outer layer polymer that dissolves after the drug is eluted and has done its job, leaving a long-lasting, cleared path for blood to flow to the heart. This advanced technology is specially designed for rapid healing of the vessel after the procedure and has been proven safe and effective through extensive clinical studies. These are the types of technologies that caregivers should be kept informed of, but it’s also important that a caregiver take into account the full medical and family history of the person within their care in order to determine potential risk factors associated with each treatment.
6. Make sure you are taking care of your own heart health.
This is especially true for women, as heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. and causes 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute. Make sure you know what questions to ask your doctor to keep your own heart healthy.
Ask yourself the following questions:
• Based on my family and personal history, am I at risk for coronary artery disease?
• Do my cholesterol levels put me at risk for coronary artery disease?
• Could the symptoms I am experiencing, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, be related to coronary artery disease?
• What treatment options are available to treat coronary artery disease and what are the associated benefits and risks?
The bottom line for caregivers is this: Play a kind and loving, yet active role as a caregiver to someone with CAD, and learn from the experience to help yourself – and others – maintain a healthy heart for a long life.
Dr. Alpesh R. Shah
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