Most of us want to age well, but far too many Americans are dying young or having heart attacks and strokes. In fact, heart disease kills one American every 34 seconds. Heart disease and stroke are not only the leading causes of death but also make it impossible for some adults to return to work and enjoy their favorite activities. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, there are more people under age 65 who are dying from heart disease and strokes that don’t have to happen than those who are older than 65 years. Once thought to be a man’s disease, heart attacks and strokes kill more women each year that the next four causes of death combined, including cancer.
Click here for the "inside story" on how a heart attack happens.
The blood vessels that feed your heart muscle and brain are called arteries. These arteries carry blood that is the “fuel supply” you need for life. The arteries that feed the heart muscle are called coronary arteries and provide blood to the heart muscle so that it can pump blood. When cholesterol and inflammation build up within the walls of your coronary arteries, it’s called coronary artery disease.
A heart attack can occur when a coronary artery becomes blocked and blood can no longer get through to feed the heart muscle. The blockage is caused by a buildup of cholesterol in the wall of the artery (plaque with a large lipid core) that becomes inflamed and then ruptures or breaks open causing a clot to form. It’s similar to having a sore or pimple on the inside of your artery wall. If there is a lot of cholesterol and inflammation in the plaque, the cap on the sore can become very thin and weak (unstable). If the thin cap is damaged and the inflamed sore breaks open, your body tries to repair the damage by forming a clot. The combination of the plaque and clot together can completely close off the coronary artery and cause a sudden heart attack or sudden death. If this process happens in an artery that brings the blood supply to your brain, a stroke can occur.
The cholesterol injures the inside of the artery wall and the body tries to get rid of it in the same way your body tries to get rid of a splinter in your finger. As you know, the inflammation that forms around the splinter can cause a painful, red sore. When cholesterol enters the wall of the artery, the sore forms inside the artery wall. The cholesterol inside the artery may cause a lot of inflammation, enough to trigger a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor has probably tested your cholesterol levels to see if you are at a risk for a heart attack. If you have normal cholesterol levels you may have assumed that you are not at risk for a heart attack or stroke. This is not always true. Approximately 50% of patients who have a heart attack or stroke have normal cholesterol levels. So, what is driving these events (heart attacks and strokes) to still happen? Researchers now understand that events happen because of inflammation in the artery. Measuring cholesterol without inflammation or measuring inflammation without cholesterol may tell only part of the story.
Cholesterol testing provides part of the picture. Inflammation Testing helps provide a more complete picture of YOUR RISK for heart disease.
We know that events (heart attacks and strokes) happen because of inflammation in the artery. Watch the Know Your Risk Video™ to learn more about how these simple blood and urine tests give doctors information on inflammation so they have a more complete picture of your risk for heart attack and stroke. Hear how doctors learn which patients are at risk and from patients who have been tested.
Your arteries are protected by a thin layer of cells (endothelium) which act like the shingles on a roof and prevent cholesterol from getting into the artery wall. The endothelium can be injured, or damaged, by various risk factors including uncontrolled blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, a poor diet consisting mostly of sugars and red meat, and inflammation.
The following tests may help to identify your early risk for disease:
F2-Isoprostanes (F2-IsoPs) is a 'lifestyle marker' that measures the amount of oxidation in your body that may damage your endothelium. Eating too much red meat, smoking or not exercising enough can increase your F2-Isoprostanes levels and increase your risk for future heart disease.
Oxidized LDL (OxLDL) is a marker that measures the amount of LDL - or "bad cholesterol"- that has been damage due to oxidation. Poor lifestyle habits can increase your OxLDL levels and increase your risk for pre-diabetes.
Cholesterol that continues to make its way into the artery wall can lead to inflammation. The body sends in specialized immune cells called macrophages to remove the cholesterol. Macrophages eat the cholesterol and instead of removing it, they turn into "foam cells" - a name given to cholesterol filled macrophages due to their foamy appearance. The foam cells then get trapped in the artery wall and this causes the body to send in more macrophages. The process becomes a vicious cycle that leads to the formation of an inflamed sore on the inside of your artery wall which may lead to a blockage in the artery if the disease process is not discovered and treated.
The following tests may help to identify the presence of disease:
hsCRP is a general marker of inflammation. The presence of a cold may increase hsCRP levels over the short-term (days to weeks). However, the accumulation of cholesterol in the artery wall many result in increased hsCRP levels over the long-term (years to decades).
Urinary Microalbumin is a marker of endothelial damage in your kidneys. If the endothelium is damaged in your kidneys then it's likely damaged in other parts of your body including your arteries. Increased levels of urinary microalbumin may identify the presence of diabetes or heart disease.
Too much cholesterol build-up and inflammation can cause the endothelium to become thin, unstable, and at risk for rupturing.
When it ruptures, the contents of the artery wall are released into the bloodstream which triggers a blood clot. The blood clot can cause a heart attack or stroke.
The following tests may help to identify the presence of disease:
Lp-PLA2 (The PLAC® Test) is a marker that measures the active build-up of cholesterol inside your artery walls. Your risk for a heart attack or stroke increase as Lp- PLA2 levels increase.
Myeloperoxidase (MPO) is a marker that measures the body's response to a damaged endothelium that has become thinned, cracked and ultimately unstable due to cholesterol accumulation and inflammation. Your risk for a heart attack increases as your MPO levels increase.
Cleveland HeartLab offers simple blood and urine testing that provides you and your doctor information that can be used to help evaluate your risk for heart disease. These tests can be used to provide a more complete picture of YOUR RISK for heart disease.
Although there are ultrasound and imaging tests that can help doctors know which patients are at risk for heart attack, they cannot be done everywhere and are too expensive to be done on everyone. Fortunately there are new blood and urine tests that are easy to do in your doctor’s office. These simple tests can help you and your doctor know your risk for a heart attack or stroke. When you KNOW YOUR RISK of a heart attack or stroke, you can work with your doctor to REDUCE YOUR RISK of an event (heart attack or stroke). YOU are WORTH “it”!
What can I do to help lower my F2-IsoProstane levels?
You can make changes in your daily life which can lower your F2-IsoPs to safe levels.
What can I do to help lower my oxidized LDL levels?
Lifestyle changes are the best option to help lower your oxidized LDL levels.
What can I do to help lower my hsCRP levels?
What can I do to help lower my urinary microalbumin levels?
Two major factors that contribute to high urinary microalbumin levels are high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is important that you work with your medical provider to develop a plan to lower these.
What can I do to help lower my MPO levels? There are a number of things you can do to lower your overall risk of heart disease, as well as lowering your MPO levels.
What can I do to help lower my Lp-PLA2 levels?
There are a number of things you can do to lower your overall risk of heart disease, as well as lowering your Lp-PLA2 levels.