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Integrative care for heart health

August 11, 2020 | UCI Health
UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Ailin Barseghian uses traditional and integrative health approaches to treating heart disease.

“Taking an integrative approach gives me more tools beyond traditional pharmacological ones,” says UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Ailin Barseghian, who works with patients to try to find the underlying causes of their heart condition.
Photo credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

Your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure, orders various tests and sends you home with a prescription to keep it under control.

That’s the old-school model of a typical healthcare experience.

UCI Health, with its emphasis on evidence-based integrative health, is new school, with world-class specialists focused not only on treating the immediate symptoms of heart disease and other conditions, but also the mind, body and spirit of patients.

Along with traditional tests, integrative health specialists also use sophisticated diagnostic assessments and examine patients’ health history and lifestyle in depth, including diet, exercise habits and other factors, to devise an individual treatment plan.

Treating the whole person

“It’s a whole-person approach,” says UCI Health interventional cardiologist Dr. Ailin Barseghian, who specializes in preventive cardiology and integrative heart health with the UCI Health Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute.

Barseghian is one of many physicians who are bringing this integrative approach to wellness to UCI Health — Newport Beach, a multispecialty medical office opening Aug. 17 in the Newport Center business complex surrounding Fashion Island.

The emphasis on integrative health at the new center is being spearheaded by UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Shaista Malik, executive director of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute and associate vice chancellor at the UCI Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences.

The center’s services will include integrative cardiology, integrative gastroenterology, integrative dermatology, integrative pain management and such therapies as acupuncture, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, mindfulness and yoga.

“I’m very excited that UCI Health is leading these efforts,” says Barseghian, who also is an assistant professor in the UCI School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology. “With advanced testing and other supportive treatments, we can personalize care for each individual and help reduce their risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

Getting at root causes

To be sure, traditional cardiologists also recommend that patients improve their diets, exercise a certain number of times each week and make other lifestyle changes, Barseghian says. “Our integrative approach means we work as a team that includes an exercise specialist, a dietitian and other therapists to help guide patients.”

For a patient with high blood pressure, for example, the goal is to get to the root of the problem, she explains.

“We’ll assess nutrition and fitness, as well as sleep patterns and any possible stressors, such as whether someone is going through a divorce or a difficult time on the job, to see if there’s an underlying cause. We might also try acupuncture, which studies show can lower blood pressure if a regular regimen is maintained.”

Under one roof

What’s different about UCI Health — Newport Beach is that specialty care and most integrative health therapies are available in one location, Barseghian says. An average of five providers and more than a dozen staff members will be on duty each day to serve patients at the 7,000-square-foot facility.

“It’s certainly a unique resource in this area. Some of these complementary therapies, like acupuncture, aren’t new. We’re just including them when it comes to assessing the overall health of our patients.”

Barseghian, a graduate of New York Medical College, got most of her medical training at UCI. She completed an internal medicine residency and cardiovascular disease fellowship at UCI Medical Center. She completed a second fellowship, in interventional cardiology, at Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute in New York City.

She returned to UCI, where she has been a faculty member in the Department of Medicine for five years. She currently sees patients at the UCI Health Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute in Costa Mesa, at UCI Health — Tustin, and at the UCI Health Cardiovascular Center in Orange.

“I love my work,” she says. ”In medicine, the biggest drive is the human connection with your patients, having the opportunity to help and guide them.”

Focus on prevention

In her role as an interventional cardiologist, Barseghian puts in stents and treats heart attacks. But she also finds it rewarding to focus on preventing the progression of heart disease.

An essential strategy is to teach patients how to manage or prevent the negative effects of stress with integrative approaches that may include acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness training.

“It’s not uncommon to see blood pressure or a heart-rate changes based on stressors, especially prolonged or situational stress,” she says. ”That is hard to manage with traditional pharmaceutical therapy. The focus then becomes finding ways to manage that stress to avoid a surge in blood pressure.

“Taking an integrative approach gives me more tools beyond traditional pharmacological ones.”

What is integrative health? (video) ›

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