Could you have heart disease and not know it? Researchers from Calgary recently found a new way to look at a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. They used an ultrasound technique to measure blood vessel function in the brachial artery, an artery that runs through the arm. This test looks for endothelial dysfunction, a sign that the blood vessels that line the artery aren’t functioning properly. They believe this could be a marker for heart disease risk.
Endothelial Dysfunction and the Risk for Coronary Artery Disease
What exactly is endothelial dysfunction? The cells that line the inner surface of blood vessels called endothelial cells are very active. They respond to physical and chemical stimuli by producing factors that cause blood vessels to dilate or constrict – among other functions.
When a person leads a lifestyle that’s not heart healthy or eats the wrong foods, it causes free radicals to form, and these cells start to malfunction. This sets up an inflammatory response that damages blood vessels and hastens the development of coronary artery disease.
Heart Disease Risk and Endothelial Dysfunction
Researchers used an ultrasound study of the brachial artery in the arm to look at blood vessel function in 1574 firefighters over a 10 year period. They discovered that endothelial dysfunction was a good predictor for future coronary artery disease, a condition that can lead to a heart attack.
Could this test become a new way to measure heart disease risk? More research is needed to see if it’s a good predictor of heart disease in the general population, but it looks promising. The beauty of this technique is that it’s completely noninvasive – no needles required.
The American Heart Association estimates that over 81 million people suffer from some form of heart disease – and many don’t know it. Heart disease accounts for 1 in 3 deaths in the United States – and the incidence will likely rise as the population ages and more people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and obesity – two risk factors for coronary artery disease.
Endothelial Dysfunction and Risk for Coronary Artery Disease: The Bottom Line?
A simple ultrasound test could be useful for detecting endothelial dysfunction, so that a person can get treatment before they have a heart attack. Stay tuned for more research about this promising new way to look for early signs of heart disease.
Cardiovascular Diabetology. 2006, 5:4.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.