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Northern NJ residents' first line of defense in cardiac care

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: Susan Bloom/nj.com
Northern NJ residents' first line of defense in cardiac care

Many people who have been told by their doctor that they are at risk of heart disease often find themselves in a quandary, unsure of where to turn next. It often can be stressful and confusing.

Fortunately, patients who want exceptional care close to home can turn to Prime Healthcare’s regional network of hospitals in Essex, Morris and Passaic counties for noninvasive cardiac tests that can detect heart disease.

These noninvasive tests serve as a critical first line of defense in the fight against America’s leading killer — heart disease — and can prove to be life-saving measures.

Prime Healthcare New Jersey’s four hospitals — Saint Clare’s Health in Denville and Dover, St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic and Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark — offer the full range of cardiac tests, including electrocardiography (EKG) echocardiography stress tests, CT scans and heart monitoring.

“At Prime Healthcare, we offer a broad range of cardiovascular screening, testing and imaging tools, and conduct frequent outreach activities to help educate community members about cardiac health, risk factors and prevention of cardiovascular issues,” said Paul D. DeRenzi, MD, medical director of Saint Clare’s Health cardiac catherization service in Denville.

Prime Healthcare is an award-winning health system that operates 46 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states, providing over 2.6 million patient visits annually. It is one of the nation's leading health systems, with nearly 50,000 employees and physicians dedicated to providing the highest quality health care.

Daniel P. Conroy, MD, chief medical officer at St. Mary’s General Hospital, said Prime Healthcare’s New Jersey hospitals have a long track record of high-quality cardiac care.

“We have strong cardiac programs that have been in place for decades,” Dr. Conroy said of the cardiac-related expertise and technology available at Prime Healthcare’s New Jersey hospitals. “There’s a lot of tradition and capability here, and patients are in great hands.”

Dr. DeRenzi and Dr. Conroy recently discussed the range of key noninvasive cardiac tests available and how those assessments can help detect the presence of heart disease and irregularities:

• Electrocardiography (EKG) — An EKG provides a visual interpretation of the electrical currents that generate a person’s heartbeat. To obtain an EKG (sometimes called an ECG) tracing, a technician places small plastic patches containing electrodes at several spots on the patient’s chest, arms and legs. The patient then remains still for several seconds to a minute while the tracing is obtained during this painless test.

“An EKG is one of the most basic and easily used cardiac screening and diagnostic tools available,” Dr. DeRenzi said.

Echocardiography — Echocardiograms use ultrasound to image the heart and assess its structure, looking at things such as the size of the four cardiac chambers, and heart muscle thickness and function.

“Echocardiograms also can evaluate valvular function and assess nearby structures for potential fluid collections around the heart,” Dr. DeRenzi said. He added, “We often recommend this test for patients suffering from symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and fainting and palpitations.”

Stress Tests — Often conducted by having the patient walk on a treadmill, stress tests are used to assess heart rate, blood pressure, response to/tolerance of exercise (external “stress”) and certain EKG changes that could indicate blood-flow problems involving the heart or blockages that deprive the heart muscle of blood and oxygen.

“Stress tests can also diagnose cardiac arrhythmia, which is defined as a fast, slow or irregular heartbeat,” Dr. DeRenzi said.

Dr. Conroy added that stress tests can be performed in conjunction with two-dimensional echocardiogram imaging and isotope scanning of the heart following injection of radioactive elements (in procedures known as “nuclear stress tests”).

“For those patients who can’t walk on a treadmill due to conditions such as morbid obesity, arthritis or aortic stenosis, a pharmacological nuclear stress test can be used to evaluate blood flow to the heart instead,” Dr. Conroy said.

CT Scans — A computed tomography (CT) scan of the heart is used to detect the level of calcium deposits or plaque buildup in the heart’s arteries, which can increase a patient’s risk of cardiovascular problems.

“CT scans look at coronary calcium scores and measure blood flow within the coronary artery to determine the level of stenosis, or narrowing, in a noninvasive manner,” Dr. Conroy said. He added that the test also can be helpful in determining whether to treat high cholesterol with a statin drug or other medication.

Heart Monitoring — Heart monitors are devices that record the heart’s electrical activity over an extended period to help determine if the heart is getting enough oxygen or if the electrical impulses in the heart are abnormal.

“Monitoring devices can record heart rhythms for anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks, while implantable loop monitors can be inserted under the skin to record heart rhythms continuously for up to several years,” Dr. DeRenzi said.

An Ounce of Prevention

Dr. DeRenzi explained that risk factors for heart disease include a family history of the condition, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, poor nutritional habits, a sedentary lifestyle and cigarette smoking.

Dr. Conroy added that people can enhance their heart health by not smoking and by following a healthy diet that’s high in fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, nuts/seeds, fish and lean meats, and low in sugar and processed foods. “Exercise is also very important, such as walking two miles a day for as many days a week as you can, which requires only a good pair of walking shoes, no fancy equipment,” Dr. Conroy said. “Studies have shown that there’s value in doing resistance training as well,” he noted.

“Early screening for heart disease is also a good idea, especially for people over age 40,” Dr. DeRenzi said.

To learn more about Prime Healthcare’s cardiology services or to schedule an appointment, call 973-576-5320 or visit heartnj.primehealthcare.com.