• Heart & Vascular Conditions

  • Heart & Vascular Conditions Treated at St. Anthony Hospital

    Cardiovascular (heart and related blood vessel) disease is one of our nation’s most serious health problems and one of the leading causes of death. The American Heart Association estimates that approximately 84 million people in the U.S. now have some type of cardiovascular issue and that one of every three deaths can be traced to these conditions. The good news is that—with early detection and appropriate intervention—many of those with heart and vascular problems can live longer, healthier lives.

    If you or a family member has been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, we encourage you to consider St. Anthony Hospital your partner in care. Our Heart and Vascular program brings together highly skilled specialists, award-winning services and the advanced technology of our state-of-the-art facility. And along with these strengths comes a commitment to your best outcome and well-being.

    This website contains information on common cardiovascular conditions, the symptoms and the treatment offered by St. Anthony Hospital. Please remember that the information provided here is for educational purposes only. Your health care provider will provide information specific to your condition.

  • What is a cardiothoracic aortic aneurysm?

    A cardiothoracic aortic aneurysm is a serious condition that affects more than 15,000 people in the United States every year.  It is estimated that 25 percent of aneurysms form in the chest, and the rest in the belly. 

    To understand this condition, think of the aorta as a vascular “super-highway” that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.  Because the aorta is naturally very elastic, it can stretch and adapt to accommodate blood flow.  This normal resiliency can be lessened by several factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, hardening of the arteries and the aging process. When the walls of the aorta weaken, bulges—also known as aneurysms—can form. When these weakened areas stretch further, they can rupture, resulting in serious bleeding, blood clots and other life-threatening conditions. Having a family history of this condition is another risk factor that one should discuss with his or her physician.

    What are the symptoms of a cardiothoracic aortic aneurysm?

    Those with aortic aneurysms often complain of discomfort or pain in their chest, belly and back, while others experience no symptoms. Physicians often discover these aneurysms while performing routine exams and tests. Generally, screening tests for abdominal aneurysms are recommended for men who:

    • Are from 65 to 75 years of age and have ever smoked
    • Are at least 60 years old and have a first-degree relative (i.e., father or brother) who has had an aneurysm

    Screening tests are also advised for anyone with a close relative who has had a thoracic aortic aneurysm.

    Other problems—which do produce symptoms—can result from an aortic aneurysm. A major one is the formation of blood clots. When a blood clot forms in the chest area as the result of an aneurysm, it can move to the brain and cause a stroke. When an aortic aneurysm occurs in the belly, blood clots can break off and block blood flow to the legs or belly.

    How are cardiothoracic aortic aneurysms treated?

    If your physician suspects you have this condition, he or she will likely order diagnostic testing, such as an MRI, a CT scan or an ultrasound. When these tests confirm a problem, surgical correction is generally the best course of action. St. Anthony Hospital has a state-of-the-art facility and surgical specialists skilled in performing open and closed surgeries such as these. For some patients, the less-invasive procedure known as endovascular repair may be an option. With early detection, aortic aneurysms generally can be repaired and patients can resume a healthy lifestyle.

    What is an aortic dissection?

    An aortic dissection (separation) occurs when a full or partial tear occurs in the lining of the aorta. This allows pressurized blood flow to enter the arterial wall. If not corrected, this continuous flow can result in the aorta rupturing. Most people do not survive this. Aortic dissections are of two types: 

    • Type A refers to dissection of the ascending aorta(the left portion of the aortic arch).
    • Type B refers to dissection of the descending aorta(the right portion of the aortic arch).

    Aortic dissections are more common among people with high blood pressure, arteriosclerotic vascular disease, and those with a family history of aortic (abdominal or thoracic) dissection. Congenital cardiovascular disorders such as Marfan's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and other valve-related issues can increase risks, as well.

    What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

    Symptoms of aortic dissection include sudden, severe pain in the upper back—a pain many patients describe as “ripping” or “stabbing.” This pain may radiate into the neck or jaw, and some will experience chest pain, as well. Shortness of breath is common, as is the loss of consciousness. These symptoms are signs of a critical condition. Seek medical attention immediately. Not all people, however, experience the pain just described. Their symptoms may include a change in mental capacity (due to lack of blood supply to the brain) or numbness/tingling in the arms or legs (as blood flow to the spinal cord is diminished).

    Diagnosing an aortic dissection correctly is critical to a course of care, as treatment options vary significantly. It’s also important to rule out that the symptoms are signs of a heart attack. Imaging studies used to identify the type and location of the dissection include echocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), peripheral angiography and—the gold standard for this condition—computed tomography (CT) scans. St. Anthony Hospital’s state-of-the-art 128-slice CT scanner can prove a decided edge in such diagnosis.

    What are the treatment options for an aortic dissection?

    • Type A dissections (involving the ascending aorta) are life-threatening emergencies. They require immediate, open-chest cardiovascular surgery. Synthetic grafts are sewn into place to repair the arterial leakage and keep pressure from rupturing the aorta.
    • Type B dissections (involving the descending aorta) are most often treated medically with prescribed medications and routine monitoring and prescribed medications. Surgical options are possible but used less frequently due to a increased risk of paralysis

    What is aortic valve stenosis?

    Aortic valve stenosis occurs when the aortic valve narrows or tightens to the point it prevents normal blood flow. More women than men experience this problem.

    What are the symptoms of aortic valve stenosis?

    Those with this condition may feel pain or a tight sensation in the chest and a shortness of breath, especially when exercising. Many people have no symptoms, which results in the stenosis being undetected. Without treatment, the stenosis can become severe and lead to heart failure and death. It’s estimated that as many as half of patients with aortic valve stenosis will not survive more than two years, on average, once symptoms present.

    What is the treatment for aortic valve stenosis?

    Until recently, the only treatment has been open-heart surgery to replace the aortic valve. Now, cardiovascular surgeons are able to benefit many patients—including some who would have been too sick to undergo open-heart surgery—an option called TAVR, which stands for transcatheter aortic valve replacement. This minimally invasive procedure requires only small incisions in the chest wall.

    What is severe aortic valve stenosis?

    Aortic valve stenosis occurs when calcium deposits build up on the aortic valve leaflets (the small flaps of tissue that regulate the one-way flow of blood through the valve). As this narrowing restricts the valve’s ability to fully open and close, less oxygenated blood flows from the lungs to the brain and throughout the body.

    What are the symptoms of severe aortic valve stenosis?

    Common symptoms include extreme fatigue and shortness of breath.

    What is the treatment for severe valve stenosis?

    If the patient is physically able to have open-chest surgery, that is often the best option. Others may benefit from an option called TAVR, which stands for transcatheter aortic valve replacement. This minimally invasive procedure requires only small incisions in the chest wall, if at all.

    What is a coronary artery blockage?

    An artery blockage can occur when there is atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque composed of fat, cholesterol and calcium builds up inside the artery walls. This prevents the vessels from delivering the nourishment the heart needs to function well.

    What are the symptoms of a coronary artery blockage?

    Symptoms may include chest pain (angina) or tightness and feeling faint or fatigued with exercise.

    How are coronary artery blockages treated?

    Common treatments for these blockages include:

    • Bypass surgery. This involves rerouting the blood flow around the point of the blockage by surgically implanting a healthy artery from somewhere else in the body. 
    • Stent placement. Stents are tiny mesh tubes that are placed by catheter, then expanded to hold constricted arteries open.

    What causes heart rhythm disorders?

    The healthy heart contracts—or beats—at regular intervals to move blood throughout the body. The pattern of heartbeats is controlled by electrical impulses that travel through the heart. If this electrical system does not function normally, a rhythm disorder—or arrhythmia—is the result. Some irregular heartbeats—such as an occasional extra beat or “skipping” a beat—pose no health problem. Others—such as atrial fibrillation or AFib—can be life threatening.

    How are serious heart rhythm disorders treated?

    Depending upon the type and severity of the disorder, cardiac specialists may prescribe medication, implant a corrective device such as a pacemaker, or recommend an advanced electrophysiology approach. St. Anthony Hospital was one of the first hospitals in the nation to perform the balloon cryoablation procedure to correct AFib. Our specialists also correct AFib through the minimally invasive MAZE procedure.

    What is lung disease?

    This is a broad term encompassing disorders that affect the lungs and the ability to breathe. When the lungs do not function well, the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen. Some examples of lung disease include:

    • Asthma
    • Chronic bronchitis
    • Emphysema
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease  (both chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
    • Infections (i.e., pneumonia and influenza)
    • Lung cancer
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Pulmonary fibrosis


    How can a cardiothoracic surgeon help?

    Open-chest and minimally invasive procedures can help some patients with lung disease breathe better and enjoy a higher quality of life.

    What is a heart murmur?

    A heart murmur occurs when one of the valves that regulate blood flow through the heart doesn’t function correctly. Heard through a stethoscope, the normal heartbeat makes a sound like lub-DUB. With a heart murmur, there is an extra, whooshing sound—ranging from barely audible to loud. Most often, these problems are caused by either the mitral valve or the aortic valve. If the valve fails to open properly, the diagnosis is stenosis. If it leaks after closing, the diagnosis is regurgitation.

    What are the symptoms of heart valve disease? 

    In its early stages, heart valve disease may produce no symptoms. Over time, however, an individual may experience fatigue and weakness made worse by exercising, shortness of breath chest pain or tightness, an irregular pulse or heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. Left untreated, heart valve disease can prove life threatening.

    How is heart valve disease treated?

    Cardiovascular specialists may use medication management for less severe issues. Often, however, the best course is surgical valve repair or replacement.

  • Heart Surgery at St. Anthony Hospital

    Heart & Vascular Surgery

    St. Anthony Hospitals offers advanced surgical options for cardiac conditions.

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