What is the Treatment for Cardiovascular Disease?
This article was updated on: 05/15/2017
Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, describes a number of conditions that affect your heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These conditions may include atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque in the arteries), arrhythmia (irregular heart rate), and heart failure.
Treatment for cardiovascular disease may be as simple as lifestyle changes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In other cases, it may involve prescription drugs or a medical procedure, depending on your situation and how far your disease has progressed. Here are a few questions you might have, along with some cardiovascular disease treatments the NIH describes.
Can lifestyle changes treat cardiovascular disease?
Perhaps one of the easiest cardiovascular disease treatments involves making sensible changes in your daily routine to slow or reduce symptoms. The NIH includes the following suggestions that you might want to discuss with your doctor:
- Quit smoking. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in 10 deaths from cardiovascular disease is caused by smoking. Medicare may help with this.
- Lower the salt and fat in your diet. Ask your doctor about nutrition counseling so you can make sure your eating habits are healthy, or adjust your diet as necessary.
- Start an exercise program that’s appropriate for your age and ability. It could be as easy as including a brisk walk in your daily routine. But don’t start any type of physical fitness routine without checking with your doctor first.
- Reduce the amount of stress in your life, or learn stress management techniques. Exercise can help relieve stress. When your life is full of pressures and worries, it can be tempting to drink or smoke more — raising your risk of a heart attack, says the NIH. If your life is difficult, ask your doctor if she can recommend a stress management program.
- Get screened for depression. The NIH reports that depression can double or triple your likelihood to develop a coronary heart disease. Medicare Part B covers one depression screening per year at no cost to you, and your doctor can recommend treatment for you if necessary.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Of course, this often relates to diet and exercise. Weight is a significant risk factor for heart disease, according to the NIH. Your health-care provider can tell you whether you need to lose weight, and recommend steps you can take toward that goal.
For some people, these lifestyle changes may be all the treatment needed to restore heart health.
What is cardiac rehabilitation?
The National Institutes of Health says that most people with heart disease can probably benefit from cardiac rehabilitation (or “rehab”), a medically supervised program to help improve your heart health. Your doctor may order cardiac rehab for you, particularly if or you’ve had a heart attack or a cardiac procedure, or you if have chest pains (angina).
Cardiac rehab typically involves a personalized exercise program and education about your condition and how to stay as healthy as possible.
Are there prescription medications to treat cardiovascular disease?
If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to keep your cardiovascular disease in check, your doctor may prescribe drugs to treat different complications and symptoms of your disease. The NIH says these various medications may be used to:
- Lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke
- Help reduce your chances of a sudden heart attack
- Prevent or delay the need for surgery
- Lower your blood pressure
- Decrease the chance for blood clot formation, which could cause heart attack or stroke
- Reduce the heart’s workload
Be sure to discuss your medications with your doctor so you understand why, how, and when to take them. Take all of your medications as prescribed and tell your doctor if you have any side effects or questions.
What cardiovascular disease treatments are available if medicines don’t work?
If you have severe cardiovascular disease, such as a blocked coronary artery, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to treat your disease. The NIH describes two procedures sometimes used to open blocked arteries:
- Percutaneous coronary intervention. Also called angioplasty, this is a nonsurgical procedure in which a thin tube is inserted through a blood vessel and threaded to the blocked artery. A balloon-type structure at the end of the tube is inflated, pressing the plaque against the artery wall and opening the blockage. In some cases, a wire mesh, called a stent, is left in place to keep the artery open.
- Coronary artery bypass graft. This is a surgical procedure in which healthy veins are harvested from other parts of your body and used to bypass the blocked arteries to improve blood flow to the heart.
Does Medicare cover cardiovascular disease treatments?
Whether you’re enrolled in Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) or in a Medicare Advantage plan, you’re generally covered for most cardiovascular disease treatments and screening tests. Medicare Part A covers treatment you receive as an inpatient in a hospital, while Medicare Part B covers doctor visits, tests, and outpatient procedures. Some restrictions apply; for example, under Original Medicare, treatment must be medically necessary as determined by a Medicare-assigned doctor. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, your plan might require you to stay within the plan’s provider network.
If your doctor prescribes medications to treat your cardiovascular disease, and you would like help paying for them, you may want to sign up for Medicare prescription drug coverage. You can get this coverage either through a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan or through a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan (described below). Depending on your plan’s formulary, or list of approved prescription drugs, your medications may be covered. The formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.
Medicare Advantage plans are an alternative way to get your Medicare benefits; they offer all the same coverage as Original Medicare (except for hospice care, which is still covered under Part A), but also include additional benefits such as routine vision and dental care, and even wellness programs in many cases. Medicare Advantage plans usually include prescription drug coverage, as well, for additional savings and convenience.
For more information, see “How Is Heart Disease Treated?” – National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, April 21, 2014
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