Treatment for heart disease varies by condition and severity. For example, coronary artery disease can be treated with lifestyle changes or medication, while a serious heart rhythm problem may need an implantable device, like a pacemaker.
Your doctor will devise a treatment plan that is best for your needs. Make sure to follow directions carefully and fully.
Generally, heart disease treatment can include:
Lifestyle Modifications?These are often the first steps to managing heart disease. Lifestyle changes include eating a heart-healthy diet low in sodium and fat, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol use.
Medication?When lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat heart disease. The type of drug prescribed will depend on the condition and severity.
Medications commonly used in the treatment of heart disease can include:
- Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, that decrease the clotting ability of the blood, are used to treat certain blood vessel, heart, and heart rhythm conditions. These drugs help prevent harmful blood clots from forming in the blood vessels or heart, and may prevent clots from becoming larger and causing more serious problems.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors expand blood vessels and decrease resistance by lowering levels of hormones that regulate blood pressure, allowing blood to flow through the body more easily.
- Beta-blockers work by slowing the heart rate down and decreasing the effects of adrenaline on the heart. This helps lower blood pressure so the heart has to do less work.
- Calcium channel blockers interrupt the movement of calcium into the cells of the blood vessels and heart. This medication can relax the blood vessels?and lower the heart rate.
- Digitalis can help the heart contract harder when its pumping function has been weakened.
- Diuretics, also known as water pills, rid the body of excess fluids and sodium through urination, helping to relieve the heart’s workload. These pills also decrease the backup of fluid in the lungs and other parts of the body, like ankles and legs.
- Cholesterol-lowering medicines,?like statins, decrease levels of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol in the blood. (1,2)
Surgery?If both lifestyle changes and medication are not enough, surgery may be needed. The type of heart disease you have and how much damage has been done to your heart will determine which procedure your doctor recommends.
Medical procedures to treat heart disease can include:
- Angioplasty?is a procedure that involves special tubing with an attached deflated balloon that is threaded up to the coronary artery. The balloon is inflated to widen the areas that are blocked where blood flow to the heart has been slowed or cut off.
- Stent placement involves a wire mesh tube, called a stent, that is used to prop open an artery during angioplasty and stays in the artery permanently.
- Bypass surgery?treats blocked arteries by removing arteries or veins from other parts of the body and using them to reroute blood around arteries that are clogged in order to improve blood flow to the heart.
- Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat a variety of heart rhythm problems when drugs are ineffective. It involves a catheter with an electrode at its tip being guided through the veins to the heart muscle. The catheter is placed at the exact site in the heart where electrical signals stimulate the abnormal heart rhythm, and mild radiofrequency energy is transmitted to the pathway, destroying selected cells in a very small area.
- Heart transplant is a procedure that’s performed in very serious of circumstances when a heart is irreversibly damaged. The procedure involves removing a diseased heart and replacing it with a healthy one from an organ donor. (3)
Tips for Preventing Heart Disease
The following lifestyle changes can help treat and prevent heart disease:
- Eat a healthy diet. Maintaining a heart healthy diet is key for preventing heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan for optimal heart health. The DASH diet focuses on heart-healthy foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and rich in nutrients, protein, and fiber. Foods to focus on include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, and nuts. The DASH eating plan limits red meats, sweets, added sugars, and sugar-sweetened beverages. (4)
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity has numerous benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving circulation. For optimal heart health, the AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week in addition to moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity two days a week. (5)
- Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. Be sure to get tested regularly for high blood pressure. That means once a year for most adults, and more often as directed if your blood pressure is high. (6)?According to the AHA, a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 millimeters?of mercury (mmHg). Once you get above this range, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Lifestyle changes and medication?can help lower blood pressure. (7)
- Keep cholesterol under control.?High cholesterol can clog your arteries and raise your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Again, your doctor will prescribe lifestyle changes and medication, if needed, to lower your cholesterol.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of heart disease since it raises the risk of other heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Controlling weight through a healthy diet and exercise will help prevent these conditions and lower your risk of heart disease. (6)
- Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and add extra calories to your diet, which can lead to weight gain, both of which increase the risk of heart disease. Healthy women of all ages and men older than 65 should stick to drinking up to one drink a day, while men 65 and younger should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks a day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ? ounces of liquor.
- Don’t smoke. If you use tobacco, it is important to quit. If you don’t smoke, it is important not to start. Smoking cigarettes raises your blood pressure and leads to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Talk to your doctor about methods to quit that will work best for you.
- Manage stress. Stress can affect the heart in all sorts of ways, including raising blood pressure and in extreme cases, even triggering a heart attack. Additionally, some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways, such as overeating or turning to alcohol or tobacco, all of which increase the risk of heart disease. Healthy ways to manage stress include exercise, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Manage diabetes. Having diabetes significantly increases your risk for heart disease?because, over time, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels. Get screened for diabetes regularly, and if you have the condition, follow your doctor’s guidance to keep it under control. (8)
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Types of Heart Medications. American Heart Association. January 15, 2020.
- Heart Diseases. MedlinePlus. September 1, 2022.
- Heart Procedures and Surgeries. American Heart Association. October 5, 2020.
- DASH Eating Plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. December 29, 2021.
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. American Heart Association. April 18, 2018.
- How to Prevent Heart Disease. MedlinePlus. March 25, 2015.
- Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. American Heart Association.
- High Blood Pressure: Causes and Risk Factors. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. March 24, 2022.