Earlier this week, former President George W. Bush underwent a routine physical here in Dallas where his doctors discovered that he may have a blocked artery in his heart.
The following morning, the 67-year-old underwent a catheterization procedure to determine the severity of the blockage. During the procedure, it was decided that he needed a stent to open up the passageway to his artery, alleviating the blockage. This procedure is fairly common and minimally invasive. He is expected to resume his normal schedule by the end of the week.
I sat down with David Brown, M.D., president of the medical staff and a founder of The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano to answer some questions about heart disease and the process the former President went through.
Q: Could you explain the procedure that former President George W. Bush underwent earlier this week?
After a physical and stress test with his physician, it was determined that former President George W. Bush may have had a blockage in one of his three arteries, which led to a procedure to insert a stent inside the artery with the blockage.
Artery blockages can be discovered through catheterization, a procedure that explores the condition of your arteries, and is very common risk assessment tool. If not normal, heart catheterization can lead to three results: medications, a heart stent, or open heart surgery (bypass).
The former President’s physician decided a heart stent was the best option for him.
Q: So what is a heart stent? How common are they?
A heart stent is a tube generally mad of both metal that, when expanded, is the size of a spring in a ball-point pen. When inserted into an artery, the stent helps keep the artery open and lowers the risk of it becoming blocked again.
A third of all significant coronary blockage and heart attacks are asymptomatic (meaning you have no symptoms) prior to their initial discovery.
Q: How could someone find out more information about their risk for coronary blockage or heart complications?
There are a variety of preventative tests that are used to gauge risk of heart complications.
A calcium-scoring test is an easy way to get an answer. If the calcium score is low or zero, the patient most likely does not have a blockage. However, if the calcium score begins to rise, the more likely the patient is to have a blockages.
Another way that coronary blockages are found is through a treadmill test (stress test), where the participant walks on a treadmill at a slope according to a preprogrammed protocol. Their blood pressure is tested after the completion of each “stage”.
If you don’t have an indication of symptoms, insurance typically says these tests are “preventative medicine”, so you may have to pay out-of-pocket for them. Calcium tests are self-referred, so anyone can get one. In most cases the test can be done for $99 at medical facilities that offer it, such as heart hospitals, etc.
Q: What’s the best advice for someone who might be at risk for artery blockage or heart complications?
Heart disease is still the number one disease and cause of death in this country, so modify risk behaviors as best as you can. Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, diet, then have reasonable regular exercise and don’t smoke.
Yet, even if you lower your risks, there is no guarantee of no complications. We cannot change our genetics or family history.
It is usually recommended that after age 40, 45 or 50, that you undergo testing like a stress test or imaging, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.
The bottom line is, although you might look and feel healthy and lead an active lifestyle, anyone can have heart disease. See a doctor regularly, know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), maintain a healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise regularly to help reduce your risk.
You should also be aware of your family history of heart disease and report it to your physician.