Aug. 07--The news that former President George W. Bush underwent a heart procedure to relieve a clogged artery took some people by surprise. After all, the 67-year-old is an active, athletic man -- just the kind of person you wouldn't expected to be felled by such a condition.
But local experts said that doesn't necessarily matter.
"The fact that he's healthy and active is in his favor, but it doesn't make him immune to these kinds of procedures," said Dr. Christopher Howes, chief of cardiology at Greenwich Hospital.
Bush had a stent placed in his artery Tuesday morning after doctors discovered a blockage during his annual physical. He is expected to be released on Wednesday.
An average of about half a million stents are implanted in people annually in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.
A stent is a tube that is surgically placed in the artery with a balloon. The stent acts as a sort of scaffolding, keeping the artery open so blood can flow to the heart. If blood flow to the heart is completely blocked, a heart attack can happen.
Howes said hardening of the arteries is one of the most common health conditions Americans face. Indeed, heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year.
Though Bush appears healthy, doctors said there are a variety of factors that contribute to heart disease, including age. Aging is among the biggest risk factor and said blockages like the one Bush faced are "not that common in 35-year-olds but it is common in 65-year-olds," Howes said.
Genetics, of course, also plays a part.
The good news, according to local doctors, is that placing a stent can help relieve heart blockages, depending on the circumstances. If there's only blockage in one or two arteries, the stent should be helpful, at least in the short-term, said Steven Kunkes, director of cardiac rehab for Bridgeport Hospital.
Dr. Jeffrey Berman, an interventional cardiologist with St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, agreed. "We put these in all the time, and most people do quite well," he said.
The stent is not a permanent solution.
"It doesn't cure the underlying problem," Kunkes said.
That "underlying problem" is whatever caused the blockage in the first place. That will likely have to be treated with some sort of intervention, such as medication or a change in diet.
The one thing everyone can glean from the former president's ordeal is the importance of regular doctor's visits, said Dr. Joonun Choi, non-invasive cardiologist with Stamford Hospital Integrative Practices and a volunteer with the American Heart Association. He said, without his exam, Bush might not have learned about the blockages.
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