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Can Heart Disease Be Prevented and Reversed?

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Who Are At Risk Of Sudden Heart Attack?

There is no early warning sign for person who suffers heart attack. Each year, more than 10 million people die of heart attack.

Plaque or fatty material, caused by age or unhealthy diet, will be deposited on the walls of blood vessels. If the plaque is "stable", it will gradually narrow the arteries and block the blood supply eventually. During the narrowing of arteries, patients may experience some symptoms such as breathlessness. So, the problem can be identified and treated.

However, when the plaque is classified as "high-risk", thing will be very much different. High-risk plaque builds up on the walls of blood vessels for a while, it the breaks off but could get lodged elsewhere and cause a heart attack or stroke, depending on where it blocks. This will then cause a heart attack. It often hits people with no known prior symptoms and who are presumably healthy. In fact, it is the leading cause of deaths in developed countries.

In view of this, a US$30million study consisting of leading health-care companies and academia will try to identify the biological signs which put people at high risk of a sudden heart attack. The researchers hope this would help identify warning signs for these people so that treatment can start as early as possible.

Early identification will save the lives of millions of people by starting treatment before the crisis. The main idea of the study is to develop a simple blood test to identify people who are likely to develop high-risk plaque.

7,300 patients will be recruited for the trial in United States by the consortium, of which Philips is a member. These patients are elderly people with no known heart problems. They will be divided into 2 groups: 6,000 of them will have the amount of calcium in their arteries and blood flow to their feet checked, while the rest will form the control group and be given conventional check-ups.

Other tests will also be conducted on the 6,000 patients. It is expected that a third of this group to be at high risk. These 2,000 or so people will undergo rigorous testing; including checking their blood vessels through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerised tomography or CT scans.

The researchers estimate that about 600 people in this group would likely suffer a heart attack within 3 years, despite knowing their risks and perhaps taking precautions to stay healthy. This is because there is currently no medicine available that can destroy plaque that has already formed, although it is possible to prevent further formation of plaque.

It is hoped that once the team can identify the bio-markers for high-risk plaque, pharmaceutical companies may try to develop a medicine to counter it.



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