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Chronic Inflammation and Heart Disease

Feb 03, 2014 11:16PM ● By Dr. Constantine A. Kotsanis

Inflammation is meant to be a lifesaver. When we get a splinter in our finger, for instance, a cellular response is triggered to fight the presence of any bacteria that may have entered the body along with the splinter. Additionally, a defensive system made up of specialized antibodies targets bacteria or viruses. These types of short-lived immune responses keep us healthy.

If the inflammation process doesn't halt when the threat is stabilized, it becomes a chronic, rather than a temporary, condition. This may lead to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and possibly even cancer.

Many people are aware that atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque (hardened fat and cholesterol) in the arteries, can lead to heart attacks or strokes. However, what many don't know is that chronic inflammation can increase the likelihood of the arterial plaques to rupture, causing a heart attack or stroke.

It is also possible that chronic inflammation can increase the production of abnormal cells, facilitating their conversion into cancer, or further damage nerve cells in the brains of those that suffer from Alzheimer's. Living the Western lifestyleof diets high in fats and sugars and low in exercise increases the likelihood that a person's body will become inflamed.

A recent study demonstrated that about 50 percent of heart attacks and strokes occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. This suggests that many people with “healthy” cholesterol levels are actually at risk for a future incident. That's why it is important to go beyond routine cholesterol tests.

Inflammatory biomarker testing measures inflammation levels and can assess risk of heart attack, stroke or other conditions related to chronic inflammation. If it reveals a need for more investigation, a high-resolution ultrasound can be scheduled to assess the extent of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Also taken into account are genetic makeup and lifestyle habits. Risk factors include  family history of heart disease or stroke; overweight; high cholesterol; age over 40; high-fat diet; tobacco use; high blood pressure; and diabetes. People should get themselves tested to find out how they can decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke due to inflammation.


Constantine A. Kotsanis, M.D., owner of the Kotsanis Institute, may be reached at KotsanisInstitute.com

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