We all know that someday we’ll all be driving flying cars, fully prepared meals will come out of a slot in the wall, and families will winter on Venus. But what about heart care? What does the future hold in regards to treatment for the most common cause of death and disability?
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Cleveland Clinic experts predict dramatic improvements, ranging from a tiny, implantable total artificial heart that lasts a lifetime, to the use of adult stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue. Cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD, and cardiac surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD, tell us that there are researchers who hope to make up for the shortage of human hearts available for transplant, by transplanting animal hearts (pigs would be most likely) into humans . Engineers around the world are in a race to develop smaller and better artificial hearts – devices that don’t beat (lub-dub, lub-dub) but silently whir, circulating the blood in a steady stream. But why replace the heart when you can implant a little helper? Double-A battery-size devices are being tested that can be nestled next to a single ventricle of the heart and take over the strenuous work of circulation.
Wireless monitoring is definitely in the future for heart failure and arrhythmia patients. There are already implantable pacemakers and defibrillators, and devices like these will soon be able to transmit a constant stream of data about the heart’s activities, blood flow, conductivity and more. This information will be used to assess the effectiveness of treatment, and predict adverse events.
Looking ahead, fewer people with heart disease will require major surgery, as new minimally invasive and non-invasive treatments are perfected. The good news for patients that will still require open surgery is that these procedures are improving in ease and effectiveness, and that more patients – even very old and very sick patients – will be able to have surgeries that they were previously ineligible for.
Finally, the best defense against heart disease will still be the “prevent” defense, no matter how far we look into the future. The drastic drop in tobacco use over the past 30 years shows us how it is possible for the population at large to react to knowledge about the connection between disease and personal behavior. We may very well see equally dramatic changes in the dietary and exercise habits across our increasingly overweight and sedentary population. If the man and woman of the future commit themselves to a balanced diet low in saturated fat and sodium, get regular exercise, and send cigarettes to the museum of outmoded habits, heart disease will move out of medicine and into a new academic category: history!
Dr. Gillinov and Dr. Nissen are authors of the book, Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You’ll Ever Need. This new book cuts through the confusion to give you the knowledge and tools you need to live a long and heart-healthy life.