American Heart Month
February is American Heart Month, and cardiologists at the UNM Health Sciences Center are encouraging New Mexicans to think about their heart health.
Credit: Sara Mota

As the nation recognizes American Heart Month and Heart Failure Awareness Week (Feb. 8-14), cardiologists at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center are encouraging New Mexicans to think about their heart health and to be on the look out for signs of heart disease, including heart failure, a progressive condition that affects more than 5 million Americans.

In patients with heart failure, the heart muscle weakens and gradually loses its ability to pump blood efficiently. According to the Heart Failure Society of America, more than 400,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, yet many people with heart failure are not aware they have the condition, because some of the most common symptoms – such as tiredness and shortness of breath – are mistaken for normal signs of aging.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, having a prior heart attack, a history of heart murmurs, diabetes, an enlarged heart and a family history of enlarged heart.

"One of the best ways to prevent heart failure is to find those things that increase the risk for heart failure, and then jump on them immediately," said Bart Cox, MD, director of UNM Hospital's Advanced Heart Failure Program.

UNM Hospital is the only hospital in the state certified for advanced heart failure treatment by the Joint Commission for the past three years. The hospital’s heart failure program has also won Gold Performance Achievement Awards for the past five years from the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association's "Get With the Guidelines" program.

“Treatment for heart failure can be complex. Successful care may depend on specialists housed throughout the UNM School of Medicine," said Warren Laskey, MD, chief of UNM’s Division of Cardiology.

“We strive to provide patient-centered care," he said. "We believe heart failure care is a partnership and that the best outcomes are provided through support of patients as they change behaviors and lifestyle.”

Patients receive support from an interdisciplinary heart failure team led by Cox. The team includes cardiologists, electrophysiologists, pulmonologists, psychiatrists, pharmacists, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, palliative care physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical assistants and a social worker.

“It truly ‘takes a village’ to ensure quality care for our patients with heart failure,” said Cox, who is the only heart failure and transplant physician in New Mexico certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

 

The UNM School of Medicine's cardiology division also has ongoing clinical and educational efforts for faculty and fellows in order to create a fully integrated program for adults with congenital heart disease, according ot Laskey. Unfortunately, he says, many of these patients continue to have problems in adult life despite being "fixed" in childhood.

"And it is increasingly being appreciated that specialized care is needed for these adult with a history congenital heart disease,” he said.

The UNM Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at UNM is the only such program in the state recognized by the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

 “Our goal is to function as a true center of excellence in the clinical, medical and surgical management of the types of complex patients,” Laskey said.