In heart disease prevention, shoot for perfection

It really struck me today that it's the people who've chosen to compromise their prevention program who end up with trouble--heart procedures, heart attack, even heart failure.

Take Bob, for example. Bob is 73 years old and had a bypass operation in 2000. The procedure went well and Bob enjoyed 6 years of seemingly trouble-free life. Bob had a seriously low HDL cholesterol for which he as taken a modest dose of niacin, but was unwilling to do much more. His HDL cholesterol was thererefore "stalled" at around 40 mg. (We aim for 60 mg or greater.) We talked repeatedly about the options for increasing HDL but Bob was content with his results. After all, since his bypass operation, he'd felt well and could do all he wanted without physical limitation.

But Bob underwent a stress test for surveillance purposes (which we routinely do 5 or more years after bypass surgery). The test was markedly abnormal with two major areas of poor blood flow to his heart (signalling potential heart attack in future). Bob ended up getting 5 stents to salvage two bypass grafts, both of which showed signs of substantial degeneration.

I've seen this scenario repeatedly: A person is unwilling to go the extra mile to obtain perfection in lipid/lipoprotein patterns, lifestyle changes, and taking the basic, required supplements. Compromises eventually catch up to you in the form of another heart attack, more procedures, heart failure, physical disability, even death.

The message: Don't draw compromises in heart disease prevention. Coronary plaque is a chronic process. It will take advantage of you if you ever let your guard down.