Heart of the Matter

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Heart disease may be the leading cause of death in the United States, but for many, it doesn’t have to be.

“It’s all in patients’ hands,” Dr. Swarnalatha Kanneganti said. “Ninety percent of the time, it is preventable because of risk factor modification and appropriate medical therapy, like regular physical exercise.”

Dr. Kanneganti is the Rio Grande Valley’s only female cardiologist — an advantage for women who might be more comfortable discussing their health and any potential procedures with female doctors. Dr. Kanneganti is also the director of the Chest Pain Center at McAllen Heart Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, and three freestanding South Texas Health System emergency rooms.

Dr. Kanneganti was born and raised in India, and attended medical school there. India was also where she discovered her passion for cardiology while responding to cardiac emergencies in a hospital there. Dr. Kanneganti moved to the United States and completed her internal medicine residency in Pennsylvania. After her cardiology fellowship in Ohio, she moved to the Rio Grande Valley.

“The best thing I liked about the Valley is the weather,” she said. “That made us move. After coming here, I realized there is a lot of need in health care. We have a lot of hospitals but still there’s a lot of necessity.”

Cardiology encompasses much more than focusing on diseases related to the heart. The “vascular” element of cardiovascular disease includes all arteries and veins from the neck down. Cardiologists like Dr. Kanneganti also address varicose veins, blood clots in the legs, lungs, or other places, and arterial blockages in legs and additional locations in the body. And for people with blood clots in their legs and lungs, cardiologists now have more than just blood thinners in their arsenal of approaches in the appropriate patients.

“We have technology to retrieve the clot and quicken the recovery process,” Dr. Kanneganti said.

Her favorite area of cardiology includes addressing arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats.

“Dealing with arrhythmia is very interesting, especially finding out from which focus the abnormal heart rhythm is arising in the heart,” she said. “It’s like a great voyage going through the electrical conduction system of the heart. I feel proud to say that South Texas Health System is going to start an arrhythmia clinic, as well.”

South Texas Health System will also soon be opening vascular and valve clinics, Dr. Kanneganti added.

“I would strongly encourage people to make use of those services and stay healthy,” she said.

This particularly includes women, Dr. Kanneganti said, pointing out that mothers tend to put others’ health concerns before theirs. “If a husband or kids have health issues, right away they’re going to be sent to the doctor. But if she gets it, she tends to neglect it and wait for a long time.”

Men are more susceptible to heart attacks at a younger age than women, but around the age of 65, the risks become more even, Dr. Kanneganti said. Symptoms for both genders are different.

 

“Men tend to get classic symptoms like chest pain and breathing difficulty, where they can identify easily and go to the doctor,” she said. “In women, symptoms are more atypical. It can be just sweating, or trouble breathing, or vague abdominal pain, or tiredness, fatigue.”

Prevention is the key in most cases, including managing a healthy diet and exercising at least 30 minutes five days per week — the American Heart Association’s minimum recommendation.

In the Rio Grande Valley, risk factors for heart disease are prevalent — much more so here than in other areas of the country.

“Sedentary lifestyle, and the risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity — they’re all high compared to other places,” Dr. Kanneganti said. “And on top of it, the incidence of many diseases are the same but the morbidity level and prevalence of the problems is enormous in this community. If I was looking at echocardiograms, for example, in other places maybe 60 percent or 50 percent are abnormal and the rest are normal, but here, 97 percent of them are abnormal.”

Socioeconomic considerations have a role, too. Some people might not be able to go to a doctor’s office because of financial considerations. Still, Dr. Kanneganti sees efforts throughout the Valley to lead healthier lives.

“I see a lot of gyms are here and people are very motivated — they’re all full all the time,” she said. “That is a good thing.”

If a person is experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, swelling of the legs, weight gain, or fatigue, they shouldn’t ignore it.

“I would like to tell people that rarely heart pain can even come like gastritis, so don’t neglect it — get it checked out,” Dr. Kanneganti said.

Primary care physicians will diagnose any underlying problems that could be causing those symptoms. If necessary, patients will be referred to a cardiologist like Dr. Kanneganti.

“We extended our services to outpatient cardiology,” she said. “We opened a clinic in Edinburg Regional Medical Center for the convenience of patients, and we do see patients every day. We are accepting new patients now.”

Learn more about Dr. Swarnalatha Kanneganti at valleycareclinics.com/find-a-doctor/swarnalatha-kanneganti.