The Nation's Health + [heart attack]

Heart attack: I had a heart attack--and I don't know why!

Kevin came to my office for another opinion.

A husband and father of two teenagers, Kevin had his first heart attack at age 39. Kevin received two stents to his right coronary artery. The entire process took place in a flurry with little explanation over 48 hours, start to finish.

He smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, but the only history of heart disease in his family was his father, who, also a smoker, had his heart disease uncovered in his late 70s.

His internist subsequently prescribed Zocor even though Kevin's LDL cholesterol was a relatively unimpressive 128 mg/dl.

Kevin subsequently asked his cardiologist, "Where did I get the heart disease from?"

"Cigarettes. And genetics. You can quit the first. There's nothing you can do about the second." End of explanation.

This left Kevin frightened and demoralized. If much of the cause of his heart disease couldn't be identified, why bother quitting smoking? Why not enjoy what time he had left?

Kevin was understandably shocked when I told him that genetic causes were 1)identifiable, 2)quantifiable, and 3) correctable.

Kevin's full lipoprotein analysis subsequently showed the most dire combination that commonly accounts for coronary disease in young people: Lp(a) with small LDL particles. This, along with smoking, fully accounted for this young father of two's heart disease.

Along with starting Kevin on a new program for correction of his patterns, I also persuaded him to get a heart scan. What usefulness is a heart scan after the fact? Plenty. Even though Kevin's right coronary was no longer "scorable" because the steel in the stent obscured our measurements, the two remaining unstented arteries would still yield a score. This provides a baseline for future comparison. Even after a stent, Kevin could "track his plaque".