Blocked Arteries

The cardiologist entered the examination room with a grim look on his face. After exchanging a few formalities, he came to the main reason for the consultation. "Jim, I´ve reviewed your angiograms again, and there is no option. You will need to have bypass surgery."
Jim was clearly shaken. "But doctor, are you sure? I nearly died on the operating table the last time I had surgery. Are there no other options? What about that balloon procedure?or new medications?"
"Jim, I really am sorry. I know how much you dread the thought of surgery, but there is simply no other option."

Dialogues like this take place thousands of times each year in America. In spite of all of our advancements in technology, we still perform some 500,000 heart bypasses each year. The darling of heart specialists today, however, appears to be coronary angioplasty. Fully 404,000 angioplasties are performed each year in the U.S. Often referred to as the "balloon procedure" in lay circles, this technique opens up blocked heart arteries by forcibly opening a sturdy balloon inside the clogged vessels. The balloon flattens out the obstructing fatty deposits, and thus allows more blood to pass through the previously narrowed area. If the cardiologist believes there is a high likelihood of repeat closure of the artery, a stainless steel wire mesh circular tube, called a "stent," will be placed where the angioplasty was performed to decrease the possibility of short-term repeated clogging.

Many lay people today have become so familiar with both bypass surgery and angioplasty that they might think that Jim is a bit childish to fear such well-honed therapies. Yet, experts who recognize the results of these common procedures would likely share Jim´s sentiments. One of the greatest concerns with these methods is that they do not address the underlying disease process. That disease is atherosclerosis, a condition that silently affects blood vessels throughout the body. The disease causes a slow but steadily increasing blockage of major arteries. Bypass surgery and angioplasty do nothing to change this gradual accumulation of fatty deposits throughout the body. These high-tech procedures only "buy time" by addressing what are often the most life-threatening areas of blockage?the blood vessels nourishing the heart. If the process of atherosclerosis is not addressed, the arteries that have been bypassed will again clog up; the vessels that have been angioplastied or stented will again be obstructed with fatty material.

Furthermore, surgical methods are expensive and fraught with some very real risks. The average cost of a hospitalization for coronary artery bypass surgery is $35,000 to $62,000 (national average of $44,200) depending on the operating surgeons and in what hospitals they perform the surgery. Although the risk of operative death is now down to about three percent or less in some centers, most people are completely unaware of the potentially permanent side effects that can occur from this surgery. For instance, two percent of bypass patients have a stroke and up to 57 percent suffer some kind of neurological complication, often so subtle that the individual´s family may have simply written it off as "Dad is just getting older." MRI evaluations have shown that the brain swells within an hour of bypass surgery; the reason may be partly explained by microscopic blood clots that are common during heart surgery.

On the other hand, coronary angioplasty costs about $22,000, depending on the physician who does the procedure and where it is performed. The failure rate of angioplasties done on a single heart blood vessel in the first six months is 35 to 45 percent, and for multi-vessel angioplasties is 50 to 60 percent within the same length of time. Such failures then require another angioplasty, stent placement, or even bypass surgery.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to bypass surgery, angioplasty, and medications. However, many patients?and even physicians?are not aware of these options. Preventive medicine experts have now proven that blockages in heart blood vessels can be reversed by changing one´s lifestyle. Perhaps what is more important, when used properly, lifestyle agents such as stress control, smoking cessation, diet, and exercise have no harmful side effects. The only side effects are desirable ones?contributing to a better quality of life and a decreased risk of diseases of many types in addition to heart disease.

For more informations see:
- Proof Positive by Neil Nedley