Dr. Asencio, Interventional Cardiologist, Prevention is key for heart health

September 24, 2018

Dr Alejandro Ascencio, an interventional cardiologist, recently shared with The Register-Herald more about his work at Raleigh General Hospital, and some of the health issues he sees in southern West Virginia. 

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Tell us more about your background and your work as an interventional cardiologist. When did you come on board at Raleigh General?

I joined Raleigh General Hospital in July 2016. I did all my medical training at the University of Arizona, including residency in internal medicine and a cardiology fellowship, where I served as chief cardiology fellow in 2014. I also completed an interventional cardiology fellowship in 2015.

What exactly does an interventional cardiologist do?

Interventional cardiologists take care of patients with cardiovascular disease just as any other cardiologist, with a focus in invasive cardiovascular therapeutic procedures, including the treatment of coronary heart disease which involves the blockage of a heart vessel causing chest pain or acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks).

These catheter-based therapies most commonly include coronary angioplasty and coronary intervention with stent placement to treat the blockage.

Interventional cardiologists can also be involved in the treatment of peripheral vascular disease, such as blockage in the vessels of the upper and lower extremities, along with our colleague vascular surgeons.

And finally interventional cardiologists, especially at tertiary and academic centers, can be involved in the treatment of structural heart disease with specialized procedures such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement among others.

You and I have spoken previously about some tools at Raleigh General available to heart patients. Can you share with us some of the more recent devices or technologies available to heart patients at the hospital?

We recently started using the Impella device, which is a percutaneous left ventricular assist device to assist patients with complex heart disease in whom coronary interventions can be of higher risk, or in patients presenting with acute myocardial infarction and cardiogenic shock.

In other words, this device is a specialized heart pump in the form of a catheter that helps support the heart while high risk coronary interventions are performed (high risk PCI) or for the most critical patients presenting with severe heart attacks in order to support their heart function before, during and after coronary intervention and stent placement.

What are the most prevalent heart conditions you see in southern West Virginia?

Without a doubt, coronary heart disease and chronic ischemic heart disease, which is related to the formation of complex cholesterol plaques inside the heart vessel walls.

It ultimately can cause severe narrowing/blockage inside the lumen of the vessel, limiting the oxygenated blood flow delivery to the heart muscle cells causing chest pain, or in the acute scenario, the plaque of cholesterol can rupture spontaneously, creating a complete blockage secondary to clot formation insert heart vessel resulting in acute heart attacks.

Can you point to any common causes, or reasons why these conditions are more prevalent?

Coronary heart disease is multifactorial with both modifiable and preventable risk factors such as unhealthy diet, smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and elevated cholesterol.

There are other risk factors that can’t be modified, such as advanced age or the genetic component of this disease in people with strong family history of heart disease.

In what ways are you as a cardiologist, or Raleigh General as a hospital, aiming to prevent or better treat these conditions?

I firmly believe that prevention is key in the treatment of these and many other diseases. I spend most of my time with my patients in the office discussing risk factor modification by promoting a healthy diet, helping patients maintaining a healthy weight, providing smoking cessation counseling, and treating chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or dyslipidemia (abnormally elevated cholesterol or fats in the blood).

Do you have any general wellness tips or suggestions for preventative care in terms of heart health?

Most people are aware of what a healthy lifestyle entails, but putting that into practices is difficult.

A good start is to get established with a primary care or family physician for health maintenance, risk factor modification and early referral to specialist such as cardiology for further evaluation, preventative measures and specialized therapies.

Diet is very important and food is essentially medicine, full of information for our bodies to work every day and involved in the development or prevention of diseases, so learning about healthy eating is crucial.

Health providers can teach and assist in the learning of what healthy eating really is.

By Wendy Holdren, The Register Herald