Atherosclerosis – Leading Cause Of Heart Disease And Stroke
About 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed with coronary artery disease every year and almost 700,000 Americans will suffer a stroke. Additionally, around 8 million people suffer peripheral arterial disease in the U.S.
Atherosclerosis is the main cause for heart attack and stroke, which results in more than 40% of all deaths in the U.S, more than all forms of cancer combined. For many, atherosclerosis is a silent disease, with no obvious signs or symptoms until it quickly leads to a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis is a disorder where there is a slow increase of fatty plaques in the arteries, causing the arteries to harden. The arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells. The buildup of plaque in these arteries narrows the arteries and reduces the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart and other parts of the body.
The process of atherosclerosis can start at early childhood or adulthood and eventually clog the arteries, which stops the flow of blood to the heart and brain, leading to heart attack, stroke or even death. Any artery in the body can be altered by atherosclerosis and, depending on which artery is affected, a variety of diseases can develop.
– Coronary artery disease or heart disease: A buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries can reduce or block blood flow to the heart, leading to chest pain and heart attack.
– Carotid artery disease: A buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries can lower or diminish blood flow to the brain leading to stroke.
– Peripheral arterial disease: A buildup of plaque in the major arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to the legs, arms and pelvis, can lead to numbness, pain and dangerous infections.
Low-grade Inflammation Plays A Crucial Role At Every Stage Of Atherosclerosis
During the initial stage of atherosclerosis, plaques build up rapidly in the inflamed arteries. When inflammation persists, the plaques narrow the blood vessels quickly. As atherosclerosis progresses, inflammation leads to the formation of soft or vulnerable plaque packed with inflammatory cells and their metabolites and debris.
The inflamed plaques form weak areas that can rupture without warning. The ruptured plaque brings the blood in contact with the plaque contents, results in clot formation and artery occlusion, leads to major problems like heart attack and stroke.
What Causes Low-grade Inflammation
Cigarette smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes are well established risk factors that promote atherosclerosis. These risk factors induce a variety of toxic stimuli that cause the release of chemicals and the activation of inflammatory cells.
Additionally, chronic infection, probably caused by bacteria or virus, might contribute to or even cause atherosclerosis. The infectious bacteria such as Chlamydia pneumoniae has been shown to have a significant correlation with atherosclerotic plaque. The herpes simplex virus may also be an original inflammatory infectious agent in atherosclerosis.
Lifestyle factors such as stress, lack of exercise, poor diet, and genetic predisposition can also promote inflammation.
Inflammatory Marker CRP Predicts Cardiovascular Events And Stroke
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein marker that rises during systemic inflammation. High levels of CRP reliably predict recurrent coronary events (angina) and heart attack. Elevated CRP levels are also associated with lower survival rates in these patients.
Studies also suggest that the higher the CRP level, the greater the risk of having a heart attack. Studies also found association between sudden cardiac death, peripheral arterial disease, and CRP.
Control Inflammation Can Prevent Heart Attack And Stroke
Inflammation should be treated by lifestyle changes, including losing weight, exercising, controlling diabetes, stopping smoking, controlling high blood pressure, and reducing alcohol intake. Anti-platelet drugs such as aspirin may offer some protection. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may also reduce low-grade inflammation.
A recent clinical trial that studied 17,802 apparently healthy men and women revealed that reducing inflammation can prevent cardiovascular disease. Another trial that examined 250,000 patients who suffered a heart attack showed that almost 50% of the attacks occurred in people with normal cholesterol levels, which suggests that inflammation is involved. The study results also implied that about 20% of the total heart attacks in the US can be prevented simply by controlling inflammation.
Natural Remedies For Inflammation Relief
There are many medicinal herbs with anti-inflammatory properties that can fight against chronic inflammation safely. Some of them have been extensively analyzed and studied. To name just a few: Turmeric, Scute, Coptis, Lovage, and Gingo biloba.
By keeping inflammation under control, natural anti-inflammatory remedies may:
– Boost the vascular healing and repair;
– Improve vascular function and integrity;
– Maintain normal coagulation of blood and protect blood vessels from breakdown;
– Restore the body’s antioxidant defense and help to ease stress.