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Inflammation appears to do a number on human heart


NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Doctors are talking more and more about evidence that inflammation has a direct link to heart disease, scientists reported this weekend.

Previous studies pointed to common infections like gum disease and stomach ulcers that may lead to chronic inflammation inside the body's blood vessels. That, researchers say, puts people at a higher risk for heart disease.

Doctors at the American Heart Association's annual meeting say they've now come closer to explaining the connection. One theory: gum or periodontal disease may boost blood levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP.

"This is the possible mechanism for the association between poor oral health and heart attacks," Dr. Efthymios Deliargyris, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Inflammation of the arteries can be measured by testing for CRP in the blood.

Dr. Deliargyris and others studied 38 heart attack sufferers and found that 85 percent of them had chronic periodontitis -- and high levels of CRP -- compared with 29 percent of healthy volunteers.

Periodontal disease is an infection that causes inflammation and also damages mouth bones and tissue. It's more serious than gingivitis, a common gum inflammation.

In another advance, researchers at the heart association meeting reported that some strains of Helicobacter pylori caused clot-forming cells called platelets to clump together in the lab. H. pylori is a bacterium also implicated in the development of stomach ulcers.

Experts said the findings could lead to novel therapies to prevent heart attacks, or new ways to determine who is most likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Known risk factors include smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Heart disease is the number one killer of people in the United States.

For now, though, doctors at Mount Sinai Medical Center said they were fairly certain that one cause of inflammation is high cholesterol -- and that cholesterol-fighting drugs called 'statins' tend to help.

"These plaques tend to get smaller and -- at the same time -- the cholesterol that is deposited in the plaque tends to go away," said Mt. Sinai's Dr. Valentin Fuster. The statins also fight inflammation inside body's arteries.

Another study looked at more than 6,000 patients who took statin drugs and found they lowered cholesterol and inflammation despite elevated readings of blood-level CRP.

CNN Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland and Reuters contributed to this report.

New blood test may be best predictor of heart attack
March 22, 2000
Diabetes joins list of heart disease risk factors
September 2, 1999
Study: Parents appear to pass on heart-disease risk
December 2, 1997

American Heart Association
Mount Sinai Cardiovascular Institute
University of North Carolina School of Public Health
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