Reader Marie Hamilton of Paducah asks how someone can pass a stress test - walking on a treadmill to monitor changes in blood pressure, heart rate, electrocardiogram pattern and heart rhythm - and still have a heart attack.
The answer has to do with plaque - not the kind your dentist may be concerned about, but the kind in your arteries, which can be dangerous for your heart health.
What is arterial plaque?
Plaque, a fatty material that builds up in the arteries, develops over time based on family history and lifestyle. There are two kinds: stable and unstable.
Stable plaque is less threatening because it has these characteristics:
* Thick cap - large layer less prone to rupture
* Small area of lipids - less likely to form clots
* Absence of inflammation
Unstable plaque is much more menacing because of these characteristics:
* Thin cap - fibrous layer more prone to rupture
* Large area of lipids - capable of forming clots
* Inflammation - inflammatory white blood cells and elevated temperature
Unstable plaque’s volatile characteristics make it much more vulnerable to rupture. When plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form, cutting off blood supply to a part of the heart or brain. When this happens, a heart attack or stroke can occur.
How can you change unstable plaque to stable plaque?
Basic lifestyle modifications can change unstable plaque to stable plaque, greatly reducing your risk of heart attack or stroke. To reduce your threat, pay attention to these risk factors:
* Family history. If you have a family history of heart disease, have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked regularly.
* Cholesterol. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200, but your doctor can determine what level is best for you. If your doctor prescribes cholesterol medication, take as directed.
* Blood pressure. Have it checked regularly, and take prescribed medication as needed.
* Diet. Eat a low-fat, low-salt diet.
* Exercise. All adults should get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most, if not all, days of the week.
* Medication compliance. Take all medications prescribed by your physician, especially aspirin, an anti-inflammatory drug that inhibits clot formation.
Pay attention to your body and immediately seek help when something does not feel right. Your heart will thank you.