Ask your heart doctor: die quickly & painlessly or linger and be sick?

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
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As baby boomers age, heart doctors are having to look at things a little more broadly. Cardiologists need to start thinking like generalists, according to a recent paper published The Journal of Cardiology. Because so many older patients are considered “complex”–they have other conditions and may be taking several other types of medications–cardiologists must use more systematic treatment. They can’t think so narrowly about their specialty–in other words, they need to stop treating the cardiovascular system as if it exists in a relative vacuum.

New treatment options may allow doctors to extend lifespans. But the end results for patients will sometimes mean choices people didn’t used to be able to make. Do I want to live longer but with a much greater chance I’ll be disabled/sickly/fragile for certain of those months/years? In the old days more people died of sudden, painless heart attacks or relatively quickly from other heart diseases.

Instead today we can keep people alive for years with heart conditions. One I know about personally is mitral stenosis–a valve disease that leads to atrial fibrillation at some stage and eventually to heart failure. Today doctors can replace the mitral valve. And with medications to control a-fib, patients can live relatively comfortably. But if they have a stroke–a common complication of a-fib–they could then end up paralyzed or damaged in other ways. Other diseases present even more complex challenges.

It can only be a good thing that cardiologists start thinking more holistically. And that advisory should be given across the board to every medical specialist. There’s no telling how many people suffer for years with missed or incorrect diagnoses because some specialist doesn’t look beyond his/her expertise to find out why that person is having specific symptoms.

Let’s hope this idea passes like lightning through the ranks of medical educators and practitioners.  And maybe we’ll see more doctors with a greater understanding and appreciation for the benefits of Eastern and alternative therapies which already tend to treat the patient as a whole.

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