Heart Disease Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the heart disease patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the heart disease advocate is the support of the patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Heart disease patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of heart disease patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a health advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease or more technically, cardiovascular disease is a general term that refers to many heart health problems. These problems can be in the heart’s circulation, heart muscles and heart valves or in the electrical (conductive) system. It can also be a disorder in the major vessels coming in or out of the heart. Some of these conditions are:
· Atherosclerosis which is fatty plaque deposits in blood vessels.
· Congenital heart defects.
· Heart attack which follows blockage of a heart blood vessel leading to an infarcted area.
· Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
· Heart failure.
· Heart rhythm disorders.
· Valve disorders. This can either be valve incompetence, stenosis or a combination of both.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
These symptoms depend on the degree of the disorder and the part affected. Many of these come about due to narrowed blood vessels supplying the heart itself or other vital organs like the brain. Some of these are:
· Chest pains that may be worse on exertion or moving against wind – angina.
· Difficulty in breathing at rest or on exertion.
· Pain and numbness in the limbs. The pains may also be in the neck or abdomen.
· Awareness of the heartbeat which may be too fast or slow.
· Fluttering in the chest.
· Swelling of the feet or generalized edematous state.
· Dizziness with syncope attacks.
· Blue coloration of mucous membranes and extremities.
· Skin rashes.
Causes of Heart Disease
There are many things that can contribute to the development of a heart condition. These are
· Infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and protozoa.
· Connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
· Rheumatic fever.
· Congenital heart diseases.
Risk factors of heart disease include:
· Lifestyle factors include smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, poor diet (junk food comes to mind) and a sedentary life.
· Congenital heart conditions.
· High blood pressure.
· Metabolic disorders like diabetes.
· Thyroid gland disorders.
· Poor personal hygiene and living conditions.
· Elevated (bad) cholesterol.
· Chronic stressful situations.
Diagnosis is made on the strength of the history, clinical assessment; laboratory investigations and radiological as well as ultrasonography tests. Some of these tests are:
· Electrocardiography (ECG). This can be the traditional monitoring or by the use of a Holter monitor that will give an ECG report continuously for up to 72hours
· Chest x-ray.
· Heart echocardiography.
· CT scan.
· Invasive investigations include cardiac catheterization.
· Blood tests may be done where the doctor is interested in certain enzymes that point to certain heart conditions.
Treatments of Heart Disease
Treatment is determined by the type of heart disease. It can include use of drugs, surgery and lifestyle changes.
Medications. The aim of using drugs is to make the heart pump in a rhythm, power and rate that is as near to the normal as possible. So some drugs are for making the blood vessels more patent to enhance perfusion; others are for decongesting the heart; still others are for strengthening and regulating the heartbeat.
Surgery is used to correct heart defects like valve pathology or during prosthetic inserts like artificial valves or pacemaker placement. In extreme cases it may be for a heart transplant procedure.
Lifestyle changes mean foregoing things that increase the risk of heart disease getting worse or recurring after treatment. It means stopping smoking, alcohol abuse, reducing weight and leading a physically active life as much as the situation allows.
U.S. Statistics for Heart Disease
In 2009, 610000 people died of heart disease.
It is the major killer for both men and women. Men constitute more than half of these deaths.
The commonest type of heart disease is coronary heart disease that kills more than 370000 people in a year.
Nearly 735000 Americans have heart attack each year. Some of this are first time victims while about 210000 are repeat victims of the attack
Heart disease can be prevented to a large extent by leading a healthy lifestyle.