Inflammation: The latest in heart disease
While many factors that predispose a person to heart disease–smoking, high-fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, and so forth–are under your control, other factors, such as genetics, are not. One of the newest contributors to heart disease to fall into this category is inflammation, a topic that is being seriously studied by heart disease researchers.
It has long been accepted that a heart attack can occur when arteries become narrow enough to block the flow of blood leading to the heart. But what causes this build up of plaque, or atherosclerosis, is less understood. Some internal process is setting the stage, and this is where inflammation appears to play a role. Inflammation is the body’s reaction to infection or injury. It is normally a healthy, positive response that helps the body to heal. But in the case of heart disease, inflammation may be a culprit.
A ground-breaking study found high levels of a chemical called C-reactive protein in men who eventually went on to have heart attacks. In this study, the future heart attack victims had three times the level of this chemical, which is released during inflammation and is thus considered a “marker” for susceptibility. They also found that daily aspirin (which is an anti-inflammatory drug) reduced the levels of this marker, and perhaps the risk of heart attacks as well.
Researchers are trying to discover exactly what might cause this inflammation in the first place. Some studies point to certain bacteria. But studies have not found that taking antibiotics will prevent heart attacks. Meanwhile, until more is learned, the best advice is to stick to a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke. The future, however, may bring therapies that can combat those factors that aren’t yet under your control.
The Health Alliance offers exercise through our cardiac rehab programs, assistance with changing your eating lifestyle through the Cholesterol Center, and smoking cessation programs. The Health Alliance is an international leader in the diagnosis and treatment of heart ailments. Our heart health physicians, nurses and other caregivers are experts in everything from how the heart works to how it gets sick.
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