By Sarah Kuper
February is American Heart Month, but for the physicians of the Birmingham Heart Clinic, it is just like any other time of the year.
That’s because preventing and treating the many complicated conditions of the heart is a year-round job.
Drs. James Towery and Robert Yoe are interventional cardiologists with Birmingham Heart Clinic.
They are specifically trained in procedures such as heart catheterization and stent placement. The procedures these doctors perform are minimally invasive and have fewer risks of complications. Often patients go home the same day.
During a cardiac cath procedure, a thin hollow tube is inserted into a large blood vessel that leads to the heart. This can provide information on how well the heart is functioning and identify problems. It also is used to perform procedures that clear blocked arteries.
Towery and Yoe are well trained in the latest approaches to heart catheterization such as using radial (wrist), femoral (groin), pedal (ankle) or popliteal (knee) approaches to the arteries.
Towery said he has loved studying and treating the heart since his first day of medical school, and medicine has come a long way since then.
Yoe shares the same excitement for the pace of innovation in heart procedures.
“Everything now is just smaller and more minimally invasive, even aneurysms (EVAR) and heart valves (TAVR) that we do are done by catheterization. And things are just going to keep moving that way,” he said.
“The technology as a whole is changing, not every year but every month. It is beyond rewarding to see how patients used to be in the hospital for five to seven days now go home in less than 24 hours after the same procedure,” he said.
The scope of an interventional cardiologist’s work goes beyond a patient’s chest cavity.
Yoe and Towery also treat peripheral artery disease. The condition affects men and women by narrowing arteries to the legs, stomach, head and arms. This narrowing can cause leg pain or cramping, varicose veins, skin discoloration and sometimes ulcers on the legs.
“Peripheral artery disease is commonly missed and likely affects up to 12 percent of the country,” Yoe said, “It can be treated conservatively at first with exercise and lifestyle changes, but then we can do a catheter procedure where we go in and take pictures and clean up the arteries.”
Another condition Yoe treats is venous reflux, in which the vein valves in the legs don’t work properly, causing the swelling and skin discoloration.
The solution to this problem can be as simple as wearing compression socks. Doctors can also perform a procedure called ablation that, again, can be done in an outpatient setting.
Physicians at the Birmingham Heart Clinic stay in tune with new research developments and new ways of thinking and treating heart disease.
In November, for the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association made a major change in its guidelines for classifying and treating high blood pressure.
High blood pressure for years has been defined as 140 and higher for the systolic measurement, or 90 or higher for the diastolic measurement.
Now, a reading of 130/80 is considered high.
According to the new guidelines, about 14 percent more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure. But Towery said only a few of those patients will be prescribed medication.
“The purpose is to identify it earlier and with lifestyle changes prevent cardiovascular conditions,” he said, “It is about conveying that sense of urgency to take care.”
Towery said he agrees with the guideline change even though it surprised him.
“The guidelines on this have been static for so long. I agree because it is intended to encourage early prevention – the things you learn in the fifth grade like regular exercise 30 minutes a day most days of the week,” he said.
Yoe and Towery agree that now is an exciting time for physicians who work with the heart. But they also agree on the importance of keeping one’s heart from getting into a condition for which their specialty is needed.
“You can do things like monitor salt intake and adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet,” Towery said.
And, he cautions, staying heart-healthy is good advice for everyone.
Towery said that while it may seem to some that men are more prone to serious heart issues, that isn’t the case.
“Women need to take this as seriously as men,” he said. “Women are high-risk too.”
The Birmingham Heart Clinic is made up of sixteen cardiologists in a variety of specialties at seven locations in the St. Vincent’s Health System.
The practice offers diagnostic tests, medication clinics and cath procedures and treatments.
For more information, visit birminghamheart.com.