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Atheriosclerosis - Atherosclerosis Isn't A Universal Malady

Atherosclerosis Isn't A Universal Malady

Atherosclerosis isn't a universal malady

By William R. Ladd, M.D.
Director of Nuclear Cardiology

"Oh, well," sighed the middle-aged man on the examining table. "I guess it's just a part of growing older."

"It" is coronary artery disease. Given the incidence of heart disease and strokes in this country, it is easy to understand why patients think atherosclerosis -- the progressive narrowing of arteries from cholesterol plaque deposits -- is inevitable. But it isn't.

If you don't have any of the five major heart risk factors -- smoking, a family history of heart disease, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, -- you aren't at significant risk of developing blocked heart arteries, which account for the great majority of heart attacks.

Controlling atherosclerosis would also sharply reduce the incidence of potentially deadly heartbeat irregularities called malignant arrhythmias, which are also generally a product of damage to the heart muscle from lack of blood supply due to blocked arteries. Most strokes also are atherosclerosis-related.

Bluntly stated, heart-related death would be a relative novelty if people didn't give themselves atherosclerosis. Smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all controllable, and even the genetic tendency to develop hardening of the arteries doesn't make it a doom. Detected early enough, it can be controlled, or at least treated before it becomes life- threatening.

We've cut the incidence of heart-related death significantly over the past 15 to 20 years. While heart attacks are still the leading cause of death, they now account for slightly less than half of all deaths in the United States.

But most of that improvement in a still enormous death rate has been accomplished by improved medical techniques and technologies -- bypass surgery, angioplasty and other procedures to restore blood flow to the heart muscle.

prevention is still, by far, the best approach to reducing that grim statistic, and that's entirely up to you. Get an adequate amount of exercise, eat properly, reduce the stress in your life, control any risk factors you may have, and you can greatly reduce your risk of heart-related death.

It takes some self-discipline and cooperation with your doctor. But prevention is a lot less bother than a heart attack. Ask anyone who's had one!

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