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Heart Conditions Treated at Southwest General Hospital

Through Southwest General Hospital, patients in southwest San Antonio and beyond have access to high quality heart care, board certified physicians, and specialty-trained cardiologists and heart surgeons. You can learn more about a few of the heart and vascular conditions treated at Southwest General Hospital by clicking on a condition below. This list is not comprehensive. Additional heart and vascular health issues may be treated. If you come across a treatment or surgical procedure that you’re not familiar with, you can view the Interventional & Surgical Procedures page for a brief explanation.

Aortic Aneurysms

An aortic aneurysm is a ballooning or bulging of the aorta, the body’s main artery, which runs through the chest and abdomen before bifurcating in the pelvic region. Blood is pumped directly from the heart through the aorta, which puts intense pressure on the aortic wall. In many healthy patients, the aortic wall is able to sustain this pressure. However, some risk factors – such as smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, and being male – can make the aorta more likely to weaken and bulge.

Symptoms of aortic aneurysm include:

Thoracic Region:

  • Neck, upper back, and jaw pain
  • Chest/back pain
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing

Abdominal Region:

  • Piercing pain in the abdomen or back (pain may spread to the groin or legs)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Clamminess
  • Shock

As an aneurysm continues to expand, there is an increased risk that it may rupture, which can be fatal. Aneurysms may be repaired prior to rupturing (if detected) or in the emergent setting through open and endovascular techniques.

Arrhythmia / Dysrhythmia

Arrhythmia (also referred to as “dysrhythmia”) is a condition in which the heart rate is abnormal or irregular. Types of arrhythmia include bradycardia (heart rate too slow), tachycardia (heart rate too fast), and atrial fibrillation (AF) (fast, irregular heartbeat). AF is the most common type of dysrhythmia.

Many arrhythmias are asymptomatic. Also, signs and symptoms can vary widely, depending on the type of irregular heartbeat. Some common symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations (the sensation that the heart is missing a few beats)
  • Slow/fast/irregular heartbeat
  • Pauses between heartbeats

More severe symptoms include weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness; sweating; chest pain; shortness of breath; fainting; and anxiety. Arrhythmia may be treated with medication, a pacemaker, transcatheter ablation, or other interventional therapies. Remember, you can learn more about any treatment option on this page by viewing this resource.


Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle in which a part of the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thickened, or rigid. There are several types of cardiomyopathy: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM), and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Cardiomyopathy may be caused by genetics, prior infection, lifestyle, or by other causes.

Many people with cardiomyopathy experience no warning signs or symptoms. Patients with more advanced cardiomyopathy may notice that they’re often fatigued and short of breath when exerting themselves. Swelling in the abdomen, legs, ankles, feet, and neck is also fairly common.

Not all instances of cardiomyopathy require treatment. Lifestyle changes and medication may help with the condition. Also, your cardiologist may talk to you about having a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator permanently implanted to manage heart function.

Carotid Artery Disease & Stroke

Carotid artery disease is characterized by atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the arteries of the neck. This condition decreases blood flow to the brain, face, scalp, and neck, and is a leading cause of stroke, which is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. Carotid artery disease is caused by the same health conditions and lifestyle choices that cause coronary and peripheral artery disease (smoking, high blood pressure, high-fat diet, high blood cholesterol, obesity, etc.).

Common symptoms of carotid artery disease include:

  • Bruits, whooshing sounds that your physician may detect when listening to the neck arteries with a stethoscope.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack, a mini-stroke that presents the same symptoms of stroke, but resolves on its own within about 24 hours.
  • Stroke, which includes symptoms of weakness on one side of the face/body, dizziness/loss of balance, difficulty with speech and comprehension, excruciating headache, etc.

Carotid artery disease may be treated with diet and lifestyle changes and medication. More severe blockages may require angioplasty and stenting or carotid endarterectomy, an open surgical procedure in which the plaque is excised from the arteries.

Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic health condition that affects approximately 5.1 million individuals in the United States per year. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in nine deaths in 2009 included heart failure as a contributing cause. In patients with congestive heart failure (the terms are often used interchangeably), not enough blood enters the heart and/or blood is not pumped forcefully enough out of the heart.

Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, regular fatigue, and swelling in the ankles, feet legs, and abdomen. Heart failure may be treated by diet and lifestyle changes, monitoring fluid intake, and drug therapy. Patients with more severe symptoms may need an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in order to manage their heart failure.

Coronary Artery Disease 

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (nearly 600,000 deaths per year). In patients with coronary artery disease, a process known as atherosclerosis takes place. Atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries, which is caused by plaque buildup along the arterial walls. As more plaque accumulates on the arterial walls, the arteries narrow. Plaque can then rupture, attracting blood clots, which block blood flow through the arteries. If you’re concerned about the possibility of coronary artery disease, you may wish to schedule a coronary calcium screening, a basic noninvasive test that looks for atherosclerosis.

Coronary artery disease can cause several symptoms – though many patients with early-stage coronary artery disease experience no symptoms whatsoever:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Heart attack
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

In many patients, coronary artery disease can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes and/or drug therapy. There are many interventional and surgical procedures available for patients with more advanced symptoms of coronary artery disease, including balloon angioplasty, coronary artery bypass grafting (including MIDCAB), cardiac catheterization, and more.  

Learn more about coronary artery disease

Heart Attack

Heart attack – also known as “myocardial infarction” – is typically a result of coronary artery disease (see above). When arteries to the heart become narrowed or blocked by plaque, the heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen to function. The oxygen-deprived portions of the heart quickly begin to die unless blood flow is restored.

Common symptoms of heart attack:

  • Chest pain. Pain in the center or left side of the chest usually lasts for a few minutes before subsiding and then returning.
  • Shortness of breath. In some patients, this is the only symptom.
  • Upper body discomfort. Pain or discomfort may appear in one or both shoulders or arms, the upper back, neck, jaw, or upper abdomen.

In women, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweats are common symptoms of heart attack – in addition to those listed above.

Heart attacks may be treated with thrombolytic drugs (“clot-busters”), anticoagulants, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, or other drugs. In some cases, coronary angioplasty and stent placement or coronary artery bypass graft surgery may be necessary. Remember, you can learn more about these procedures and others by viewing this resource.

Heart Valve Disease

The heart has four valves, all of which may be susceptible to malfunctioning. Common heart valve problems include:

  • Stenosis, in which the valve flaps become hardened or fuse together, preventing the valve from fully opening.
  • Regurgitation, in which the valve allows blood to flow backwards – commonly caused by valve prolapse.
  • Atresia, in which the valve doesn’t open all the way.

Heart valve disease may be present at birth or acquired later in life, as a result of infection, rheumatic fever, dietary/lifestyle habits, genetics, radiation therapy, or other causes. Common symptoms of heart valve disease include heart murmur and standard heart failure symptoms (i.e. fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling/fluid-retention).

Treatment options for heart valve disease include balloon valvuloplasty and valve replacement/repair, which may be performed by an interventional cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon.


Hypertension (high blood pressure) affects approximately one in every three adults in the United States (68 million people). Hypertension is often called a “silent killer” because its symptoms may be masked or unnoticed. Having symptoms can increase an individual’s risk for heart disease and stroke – two of the four leading causes of death in the United States.

However, high blood pressure can be managed and prevented. If you have high blood pressure, your primary care provider may have talked to you about making dietary and lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure. Your physician may have also prescribed you medications for managing your blood pressure. These can include diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, and other drugs. Your cardiologist may be involved in managing these drugs and monitoring changes in your condition.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease (also known as peripheral artery disease) affects approximately one in 20 Americans over the age of 50. Like hypertension, PAD is also known in some circles as a “silent killer,” due to the fact that symptoms are often under- or misdiagnosed. In patients with peripheral arterial disease, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the legs arms inhibits healthy circulation in the limbs.

As a result, a common symptom known as intermittent claudication (IC) develops. Intermittent claudication is a clinical term that describes pain during walking that goes away with rest. This pain is often described as feeling like a muscle cramp or causing tightness, numbness, or tingling sensations. In addition to intermittent claudication, patients with peripheral artery disease may have ulcers and non-healing sores on the legs, feet, and toes; weak/undetectable pulse; and pale, shiny, reddish-tinged skin on the leg.

At Southwest General Hospital, cardiologists may treat peripheral arterial disease by recommending lifestyle changes or prescribing clot-preventing medications, blood pressure drugs, or cholesterol-lowering drugs. If lifestyle changes are not effective in treating the blockages, then an interventional cardiologist or peripheral vascular surgeon may become involved. Common procedures include bypass grafting, balloon angioplasty and stenting, and laser atherectomy for PAD.

Learn more about peripheral artery disease

San Antonio Heart Care in Your Neighborhood

These are just a few of the heart conditions that may be treated at Southwest General Hospital. For more information about heart care in San Antonio, call 1-877-215-WELL.

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