The Nation's Health + [life]

Heart disease reversal: Cardiologists out of touch

This weekend, I'm fulfilling some responsiblities I have every so often to some of the local hospitals. It gives me a chance to interact with many of my colleagues who are likewise "on call" for the weekend.

I tried to strike up several conversations with colleagues about how they were managing heart disease prevention. I received blank stares, puzzled looks, indifference. One colleague declared that 80 mg of Lipitor is all you need to know.

These same colleagues are the ones scrambling for the heart attack patients in the emergency room, climbing over one another for consultation in the hospital for patients with chest pain and heart failure. They're consumed with expanding the range of procedures they can perform.

Carotid stenting is hot. So is stenting of the leg arteries. Defibrillators have been a financial bonanza. Opportunities abound on how to add these procedures to a cardiologist's abilities.

But heart disease prevention? How about heart disease reversal ?

Frankly, I'm embarassed by my colleagues' lack of interest. Imagine we had a cure for breast cancer--not a palliative therapy that just slows the disease down or prolongs life, but actually cures it once and for all. I would hope that all physicians and oncologists would learn how to accomplish this. What if instead they focused on learning new ways to remove breasts, administer new toxic chemotherapies, etc. but ignored the whole idea of cure?

This is what is happening with coronary plaque reversal. The answer is right in front of them, but the vast majority (99%) of cardiologists choose to ignore it. After all, prevention and reversal simply don't pay the bills.

That means that, in 2006, you simply cannot rely on your cardiologist to counsel you on how to achieve regression or reversal of coronary plaque. How about your internist, family physician, or primary care doctor? Well, they're busy doing pneumovax injections, Pap smears, managing knee and hip arthritis, low back pain, diarrhea, headaches, sinus infections and . . yes, dabbling in heart disease prevention.

And, for the most part, doing a miserable job of it. What you generally get echoes the drug manufacturers pitch: Take a statin drug, cut the fat in your diet.

Until the majority of doctors catch on, you're going to have to rely on sources like the Track Your Plaque program for better information.