Do You Know Your Risk Of Heart Disease?

By: Heather Rozen PT

Ok, so I’m writing this post for those of you who don’t like to read books.  I just finished the book “Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses” written by Dr. Joel Kahn.  I will not bore you with statistics but suffice it to say that Americans continue to die at an alarming rate from heart disease.  Ok, I can’t resist…just one statistic from the book…” the initial sign of vascular disease in 50% of people is sudden death”.  The INITIAL sign is death?!  What?  

Yes, you read that correctly, this particular book focuses on successful, career-minded individuals who had visits to their doctors and were given a clean bill of health only to die unexpectedly from heart disease.  Yup, you can read about multiple case studies of executives in this book being told by their docs “You’re good!” and then drop dead during a bike ride (or at their desks).  Clearly, our current physical exams are grossly inadequate and are not finding silent heart disease.  Even our best stress tests have a high percentage of false readings and can really only identify the most advanced heart disease.  But the truth is, heart disease can be found YEARS before it becomes a problem and Dr. Kahn explains the underutilized imaging and tests that can detect it.

The Good News

The good news is that it’s easy to detect plaque in an artery using calcium as the marker of the plaque (which indicates atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries).  Yay!!  We now have multi-slice CT scanners that can check the heart arteries for a price of $100-$200.  This is not covered by insurance but certainly a lot more affordable than it used to be.  The test does not require an IV, dye or medication.  There, of course, is the concern of radiation.  However, compared to other tests and procedures with radiation the coronary artery calcium CT scan is relatively low at 1mSv or less (exercise nuclear testing using treadmills may expose a patient to roughly 12-15 mSv of radiation, a cardiac catheterization to about 10mSv of radiation, spine x-ray 1.5 mSv and extremity .001 mSv).  It’s a radiation bargain!!  Dr. Kahn gives his patients a multivitamin/antioxidant packet that they can take before the scan to mitigate the effects of the radiation.  That’s brilliant!  I’ll take some before my next x-ray.

Then there is the CIMT (Carotid Intima-Media Thickness) which is an ultrasound scan.  This is a unique type of ultrasound scan which uses more sophisticated software and is more informative and more sensitive than other ultrasound scans that are used at most hospitals.  This scan gives us detailed information about plaque in the carotid artery (this artery leads to the brain).  It is not covered by most insurance companies and costs around $200-$250.  There are many studies that have established that the CIMT measurement correlates with the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

Dr. Kahn also goes on to list more advanced lab work that can be done.  He lists quite a few that are worth looking at.  High sensitivity C-reactive protein, homocysteine, MTHFR, thyroid hormone, and uric acid levels to name a few.  

His Approach

His approach to reversing the signs of heart disease include the obvious dietary changes of increasing fruits and vegetables (der), eliminating smoking, increasing physical activity and reducing body weight and waist measurements.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  He teaches stress management techniques, relaxation strategies, and respiratory training.  This doc pays attention to mind and spirit!!  He encourages yoga, meditation, and INFRARED SAUNAS!!!  He also uses certain herbs to assist with stress and emotion management.

There, I’ve summed up his book for you.  It’s a quick, easy read and worth getting.  The actions that he recommends are clear and pretty easy to do.  I’ll be buying this book for my family members for sure.