At one time, little could be done for people with heart disorders, and for those who suffered from a heart attack. Today, improved medicines and new methods of treatment allow many cardiac (heart) patients to live normal or nearly normal lives. Also, new kinds of equipment and new methods of performing heart operations have saved the lives of many people for whom there was formerly no hope.
The arteries of older people may become hardened or narrowed. This may be serious if it happens in the coronary arteries, for the blood supply of the heart is cut down. Severe chest pain may result. A heart attack occurs if the heart muscle is deprived of its blood supply. The heart muscle may be permanently damaged and replaced with scar tissue. Most people who have heart attacks recover. They must rest for several weeks or more, but they can usually then lead normal lives.
A heart whose muscle has been badly damaged cannot do a good job of pumping the blood. This condition is called heart failure. With this condition, fluid collects in some parts of the body, such as the lungs and ankles.
Doctors have a large variety of medicines and other treatments for dealing with heart disorders. A drug named digitalis is given to strengthen weak heart muscles. Drugs called Diuretics help to rid the body of excess fluid by way of the kidneys.
Diet is usually an important part of the treatment of cardiac patients. The doctor may prescribe a diet that is low in salt content. This is because fluids tend to collect in the body in the presence of salt. The heart must work harder to pump the extra fluids. The doctor often advises a patient to lose weight. The heart of an overweight patient must work harder to pump blood to the extra, unneeded body tissue. A low-fat diet may be prescribed because of a possible connection between fats and hardening of the arteries. Patients are also advised not to smoke. Smoking is a cause of serious lung diseases, and it also appears to increase the risk of getting some kinds of heart disease.