Doctor, why do I have heart disease?

I see a great many people in my practice who come for a 2nd opinion regarding their coronary disease.

When I ask patients whether they ever asked their primary doctor or cardiologist why they have heart disease in the first place, I get one of several responses:

1) My doctor said it from high cholesterol.

2) My doctor said it was "genetic" or "part of your family history" and so unidentifiable and uncorrectable. Tough luck.

3) I didn't ask and they didn't tell me.

Let's talk about each of these.

Can heart disease be only from high cholesterol and, if so, can taking a statin cholesterol drug be a "cure"? In the vast majority of cases, in my experience, cholesterol by itself is rarely the only identifiable cause of coronary disease.

Most people have a multitude of causes (e.g., small LDL, low HDL, vitamin D deficiency, concealed pre-diabetic patterns, etc.). This explains why many people with high LDL don't have heart disease and why others with low HDL do have heart disease. High LDL cholesterol is only part of the cause.

Does "genetic" or being part of your family's history also mean unidentifiable and uncorrectable? Absolutely not.

What your doctor is really saying is "I don't know enough to diagnose the causes because I haven't kept up with the scientific literature", or "I don't want to be bothered with this because it takes a lot of time and pays me very little money; I'd rather wait until you need a stent ", or "The drug representatives haven't told me about any new drugs". This is ignorance and laziness at best, greed and profiteering at worst. Don't fall for it. I hope that by now you recognize that the great majority of causes of heart disease are identifiable and correctable.

If you didn't think to ask, now you know that you should. If you and your doctor don't think about why you have coronary plaque in the first place, how can you develop a program to control it?

You need to ask. And you need to get confident answers. "I don't know" or "It's genetic" and the like are unacceptable.