Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of morbidity (poor health) and mortality (death) in the United States. Roughly 17,600,000 Americans have coronary artery disease (CAD), which leads to 8,500,000 myocardial infarcts (heart attacks) and 6,400,000 strokes each year. Every day, 2,150 Americans die of cardiovascular disease—on average, one death every 40 seconds.

Half of all males and 30% of females over the age of 40 are expected to develop coronary artery disease.

Signs and Symptoms

You may be familiar with the typical signs of an impending heart attack—sudden chest pain, pain into the left arm or left side of the neck. The chest pain has been described as a tightness or pressure. This pain is called angina—pain associated with a decreased oxygen supply to the heart muscle.

The radiating pain can be in the arm, neck, jaw, back, and/or into the upper abdomen, mimicking what people often describe as heartburn. A heart attack can also cause shortness of breath, sweating, palpitations, and nausea.

Women’s symptoms are sometimes different from men’s. In the journal Circulation, it was reported that, in addition to chest, neck, and arm pain, women develop symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, and weakness.

The researchers also found that these early symptoms occur more than a month before the actual heart attack.

Note: You may not have any of these described symptoms. That’s often the problem; the disease may progress until the point of sudden death without any symptoms.

The first sign of coronary artery disease in roughly half of those who develop it is: sudden death.

Did you know that according to The New England Journal of Medicine, half of those who suffer a heart attack or stroke have normal LDL-cholesterol levels?

This is a profound finding given that we’ve been influenced to take cholesterol-lowering (statin) drugs to avoid the consequences of a possible fatal heart attack. Yet that advice doesn’t makes sense.

After all, why would something naturally found in the body turn against us? To better understand heart disease, it’s important to understand what cholesterol is and its role in coronary artery disease—if any.

Cholesterol is one of a family of compounds called lipids (fats). Cholesterol is an essential component of the myelin sheath (the fatty covering) that insulates the axons of our nerves. Cholesterol is essential for the synthesis of Vitamin D and hormones, as well as the production of bile acids for digestion. In fact, every cell in your body needs cholesterol for normal function.

The Stick and Clog Theory

clogged arteryCholesterol—a natural lipid found in the body—has been blamed for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease for decades. The pharmaceutical establishment and the mainstream media— through pictures and pamphlets—show depictions of cholesterol sticking to and clogging arteries, as if melted butter solidified and stuck to the pipes of your kitchen sink.

The theory of cholesterol sticking to the arteries has been proven false. According to Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine, atherosclerosis of the arteries is an ongoing inflammatory condition, not the accumulation of fat (cholesterol) on the arterial wall. Perhaps ulterior motives exist to explain why this myth continues to be maintained.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs are number one in drug sales globally, earning drug companies billions of dollars a year. Is there a benefit to taking a statin drug? Yes, but not for forcing lower cholesterol levels.

Inflammation, Coronary Artery Disease, and Atherosclerosis

arterywall_CHLcopyrightCoronary artery disease is an inflammatory response created by a hostile environment in the wall of the artery.

This process is called atherosclerosis. Simply put, atherosclerosis is a disease characterized by a thickening and hardening of the vessel wall in large- and medium-sized arteries.

With time, this process continues until a plaque develops within the wall, causing a narrowing of the artery and restricted blood flow. The plaque can eventually become fragile and rupture, developing a thrombus (blood clot) to block a coronary artery, thus causing a sudden heart attack. Often the thrombus blocks a cerebral artery, causing a stroke. {Image courtesy of the Cleveland HeartLab Inc.}

Testing for Inflammation

The typical test for assessing risk for heart disease is the standard lipid profile, consisting of cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. In fact, this is a liver-function test, not a heart test.

The heart doesn’t make cholesterol, LDL, or HDL. You can’t assess conditions of the heart based on this faulty and unreliable standard of care. After all, half of those who have had a heart attack have normal cholesterol levels. The standard lipid profile is really just about risk assessment.

Fortunately, new biomarkers can provide information about arterial inflammation and the potential for plaque rupture. The diagram above depicts the progression of inflammation occurring in the wall of the artery. With each stage of inflammation, specific biomarkers can show up in the blood. These new biomarkers can help determine the stage of inflammation in the arterial wall.

Don’t wait to test for arterial inflammation and potential plaque rupture. Call our office today (203-655-4494) to find out more about getting these markers of inflammation tested. After all, for many the first sign of coronary artery disease is sudden death.

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