An extended interview with Dr. Robert Stenberg, Medical Director, Cardiac Catheterization Lab, on Progress in Treating Heart Disease
Q. Has a lot of progress been made in treating heart disease?
A. Yeah, there’s no question that this is a better time than ever. As a patient you’re options are certainly broader and in general there are more things that can be treated in a cath lab than was the case in the past. I think in the last few years drug-eluting stents certainly have been the main advance and there are a number of things that we can treat now that in the past we probably would have either left alone and treated medically or the patient would have had no choice but to undergo bypass surgery. Now bypass surgery is still an excellent option and there’s many people that need bypass surgery there just isn’t another good alternative but there’s no question that the advances in stent technology and even other interventional techniques in the cath lab have clearly broadened the scope of what we can take care of in the cath lab and it is certainly a good time, I think, for a patient to be receiving care.
Q. How about as far as the people understanding and knowing more about heart disease, do you still, do you think people pay enough of attention to the signs and symptoms and the preventative measures or do you think we still have some work to do there?
A. To be honest about it I don’t see much difference in recent years in terms of awareness. I mean I think everybody knows that exercise is good, diet is good, not smoking is good, but in actuality individual behavior is just stubborn. It’s hard to change behavior patterns and so I think that there is much more to be done on the public education front for heart disease.
Q. Do women tend to have different heart attack warning signs than men?
A. Well I think it’s well recognized that women can have atypical presentations of heart disease more commonly than men. It can happen really with either sex but it certainly is more common in women and I think from a provider standpoint of what we focus on more than anything is their objective risk factors, the things like smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and family history. Those are really the key risk factors for heart disease. So atypical symptoms in a woman that doesn’t have risk factors really does not raise much suspicion but if you have these risk factors particularly multiple risk factors even with atypical symptoms it’s really important to investigate because they may turn out to have coronary disease and it’s particularly important to identify it at a young age if they actually have developed it prematurely.
Q. One of the women we interviewed said her advice to others would be just to listen to your body that, you know, in hind sight she really should’ve paid more attention. Do you think that’s something people need to be aware of?
A. Well I think that if people have a symptom that is really bothering them I think that it’s important to try to pursue a definitive diagnosis. Having said that, symptoms can always fool you. It’s really difficult to know whether a given symptom is something important or not so I think it is important to investigate it. And going back to that risk factor issue again, if you have these objective risk factors for heart disease in your background then it becomes very important to pursue it. Even if the symptoms sound very unusual or atypical to be heart related, it’s still important to evaluate it and try to get a definitive diagnosis.
Q. I guess last question for you with the talk of Health Grades and there have been many other things lately, are you proud of this department and this program?
A. Yeah I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and looking back to where we started back in 1990 I don’t think you could’ve predicted that the program would be this big and I guess you would hope to be successful but truthfully you don’t really know until some number of years have gone by and you see that you’re delivering good outcomes and the other thing I’m happy about is many patients that have care in our cath lab here that have been to other cath labs find the experience to be very personable. We have a nice staff. They treat people with respect. You know, people can really tell if they’re just a, just on an assembly line and having their procedure and just, kind of a quick and cold fashion as compared to being treated with kindness and respect. I really think that the cath lab here, we’ve been able to collect a really nice group of individuals that treat people well. So I think besides good outcomes I think we have satisfied patients because they feel like people are nice to them and, you know, we’re really treating them with respect so I’m very proud of where our cath lab has, you know, has gone in these, you know, number of years since we started.