Art of Aging: Heart health

In this week's Art of Aging series, Lisa Thomas-Laury reports on the new technology and techniques used to help the heart and blood vessels.

Every year, your heart beats about 35 MILLION times. We often take it for granted, until something goes wrong.

David Ward can't remember many of the miles he's logged as a commercial truck driver. But he remembers one run this spring, when he became so sick he thought it was the end of the road.

"I pulled over to the side of the road and called the ambulance," said Ward.

Tests showed Ward had pneumonia, but also a bad heart valve, and a bubble or aneurysm on his aorta.

If an aneurysm burst, you can bleed to death. There are often no symptoms until it's an emergency.

Dr. Konstadinos Plestis of the Lankenau Heart Institute Main Line Health says "Usually the pain is in the front of the chest and radiates to the back."

Aneurysms can now be caught earlier and they can be managed.

Medications can slow the growth of small ones.

And if surgery is needed, as in Ward's case, the diseased section can be replaced or a stent graft can be slipped inside it to reinforce the weakened area.

Dr. Plestis says, even with complex operations, patients tend to do well.

"I was up the day after surgery, and I haven't stopped," said Ward.

Although the risk of aneurysm goes up with age, Dr. Plestis says you can lower that risk by not smoking and keeping your blood pressure under control and knowing your family history, because aneurysms do run in families.
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