The Nation's Health + [Heart disease prevention]

Heart disease prevention: Can procedures alone keep you alive?

My days in the hospital remind me of what heart disease can be like when no preventive efforts are taken--what it used to be like even with my patients before taking a vigorous approach to prevention (though over 12 years ago).

Several cardiologists in my hospital, for instance, express skepticism that heart disease prevention works at all. Yes, they know about the statin cholesterol drug trials. But they claim that, given their experience with the power of coronary disease to overpower an individual's control, statin drugs are just "fluff". Coronary disease is a powerful process that can only begin to be harnessed with major procedures, i.e., a mechanical approach.

So these cardiologists routinely have their patients in the hospital, often once a year, sometimes more, for heart catheterization and "fixing" whatever requires fixing: balloon angioplasty, stents, various forms of atherectomy. Year in, year out, these patients return for their "maintenance" procedures. Their cardiologists maintain that this approach works. The patients go on eating what they like, taking little or no nutritional supplements, and medications prescribed by their primary care physicians for blood pressure, etc. But no real effort towards heart disease prevention beyond these minimal steps.

Can this work? Very little at-home, preventive efforts, but periodic "maintenance" procedures?

It can, perhaps, for a relatively short time of a few years, maybe up to 10 years. But it crumbles after this. The disease eventaully overwhelms the cardiologist's ability to stent or balloon this or that, since it has progressed and plaque has growth diffusely the entire period that maintenance procedures have been performed. In addition, acute illness still occurs with some frequency--in other words, plaque rupture is not affected just because there's a stent in the artery upstream or downstream.

Not to mention this can be misery on you and your life, with risk incurred during each procedure. It's also terribly expensive, with hospitalization easily costing $25,000-$50,000 or more each time. (Compare that to a $250 or so CT heart scan.)

As people become more aware of the potential tools for prevention of heart disease, fewer are willing to submit to the archaic and barbaric practice of "maintenance" heart procedures in lieu of prevention. But it still goes on. If you, or anybody you know, are on this pointless and doomed path, find a new doctor.

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