Monday Medical: Cardiac care continues to evolve |

Monday Medical: Cardiac care continues to evolve

Christine McKelvie

If you go

Yampa Valley Medical Center's January "Taking Care of Me" program is entitled "Innovations in Cardiac Care." Cardiologist William Baker, M.D., F.A.C.C., is the presenter. The free program, which will include a question-and-answer session, begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the hospital's Conference Room 1.

From prevention to treatment, cardiac care could be headed for an exciting decade.

That's the view of Steamboat Springs cardiologist William Baker, M.D., F.A.C.C. He sees a hopeful horizon in a medical specialty that is continually evolving, and he will share some of these developments in a program at Yampa Valley Medical Center on Tuesday evening.

"We are starting to redefine our focus and look at what cardiac disease really is, and what is happening on a cellular level," Baker said.

This includes gaining a better understanding of how genes can determine heart disease and, therefore, who is at risk for disease. This could lead to treatments being tailored to individuals based on genetic factors. Gene therapy may even be possible someday.

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"A number of cardiac problems are inherited, and some can be devastating at a young age, as an example," Baker explained. "If we can better define the nature of this disease, we can use this information to prevent and treat it."

For instance, if a particular gene causes a certain type of heart disease, family members can be tested to determine if they have the same gene.

"This could identify people who are at risk for some types of heart disease," Baker said. "Genetic analysis can help us determine the best prevention and treatments. It also may help explain why some people respond to certain treatments but others do not."

Another hopeful development in cardiology involves improved technology in treatments to treat blockages in the blood vessels of the heart. One example is newer stent technology that improves short- and long-term outcomes in the treatment of heart attacks and chest pain. Stents are expandable metal cages that are placed in arteries to improve blood flow and decrease the probability of a blockage returning.

Baker said the progress in surgical techniques and even finding alternatives to surgery is nothing short of amazing.

"What used to require open heart surgery and days or weeks of recovery in a hospital may now involve just one day of hospitalization," he said. "There are now nonsurgical methods to repair holes in the heart, and researchers are exploring the possibility of replacing valves without surgery."

Although these treatment improvements are exciting, Baker continues to emphasize prevention through lifestyle decisions.

"Prevention is still what makes the most sense in the long run," he said. "By identifying who is most at risk, we can begin to tailor preventive efforts to those who need it the most.

"Lifestyle is always important when it comes to the heart," Baker continued. "We can assist lifestyle improvements as we learn more about heart disease."

Cholesterol management has been on the front lines of preventive care for decades. Yet even in this area, there is new information that may further decrease the risk of heart disease.

"We now have more data on the importance of not just managing total cholesterol levels but increasing the amount of HDL, which is commonly called the 'good cholesterol,'" Baker said. "In some cases, this can actually reverse heart disease."

For individuals who already have had a cardiac event such as a heart attack or surgery, Baker endorses a structured rehabilitation program.

"The benefits of cardiac rehab are indisputable in terms of improving well-being and lowering the risk for future cardiac events," Baker said. "Patients who participate in a supervised exercise and educational program show a marked improvement in function and confidence."

If you go

Yampa Valley Medical Center’s January “Taking Care of Me” program is entitled “Innovations in Cardiac Care.” Cardiologist William Baker, M.D., F.A.C.C., is the presenter. The free program, which will include a question-and-answer session, begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the hospital’s Conference Room 1.