Feature: Research into cardiac problems 'may hold key to greater treatment success'

9 December 2011

It has been deemed the biggest killer in the US and in the UK and can significantly alter a person's quality of life. Although latest reports have stated that coronary heart disease death tolls are going down, the need for advanced treatment and thorough research into risk factors in the medical sector remains. Here, we look at some of the most recent developments into treatments for the disease, which claimed 579,677 lives in the UK in 2008.

According to the British Heart Foundation, one of the leading British charities helping those who fall victim to coronary heart disease (CVD), factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history can all play a part in the contraction of the disease, which can lead to a heart attack.

CVD causes the lining of arteries to become layered in plaque, which narrows the blood vessels and prevents the correct volume of blood flowing to the heart. The British Heart Foundation recorded that in 2008 more than a quarter of all disease-related deaths in the UK were caused by forms of cardiovascular problems or stroke, which is also linked to CVD.

However, revealed that the death toll for CVD and stroke has reduced in areas of the UK such as Scotland.

Statistics from the Scottish government have shown that targets to reduce the mortality rate in the country by 60 per cent have been met and the rate stood at 49 deaths per 100,000 patients in 2010, compared to 124.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 1995. This represents an overall reduction of 67 per cent in 17 years.

Public health minister Michael Matheson commented that the statistics indicate that the "tide is turning" for CVD sufferers and that it narrows the statistical gap between the nation and the rest of Europe.

He said: "For too long, heart disease and stroke have played their part in the premature deaths of too many Scots - a toll which has weighed heavy on this nation and the families whose lives have been affected.

"Our strategy for tackling heart disease and stroke is delivering real results for NHS Scotland and the people of Scotland."

He added that this promising figure should only be the beginning and that further research and work to reduce the number is needed.

In relation to the bid to continue reducing the death rate for CVD, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina found that risk factors in men and women are different and that women can often be more at risk of plaque development than their male counterparts.

Scientists found that in 480 patients tested with a mean age of 55, the level of plaque build-up in women was more substantial and contributed to a higher likelihood of a fatal heart attack occurring.

John W Nance, a radiology resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, said: "This research tells us that extensive coronary plaque is more worrisome in women than the equivalent amount in men.

"Our research confirms that coronary CT angiography provides excellent prognostic information that helps identify risk."

He added that the technology used in the research - a minimally invasive tool to measure plaque levels - could become a useful technique to further assess the reasons for higher levels of risk in both men and women and work towards a tool to improve these factors.

A piece of research that could help to improve the understanding of CVD and its links to lifestyle was carried out by the University of Cambridge. Researchers set out to investigate DNA methylation in the human heart and the 'missing link' between lifestyle and health, but went on to map the link in detail looking at the entire human genome to find out which risk factors could cause a higher risk than others in different groups of people.

ongoing research and targets by government bodies may go some way to improve the treatment of cardiac problems. Mr Matheson said: "We are taking firm action in all these areas to support people to live healthier lives."

Posted by Edward Bartel


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