Don't be satisfied with "deceleration"

In the Track Your Plaque program, we aim to stop or reduce your heart scan score.

Recall that, without any preventive efforts, heart scan scores can be expected to increase at the average rate of 30% per year (faster at lower scores, slower at higher scores by a quirk of arithmetic).

I am continually surprised at how often people--that is, people not in the Track Your Plaque program--are often content with what I term "deceleration," or the slowing of plaque growth. In truth, most people are content with deceleration of plaque growth because they simply don't know that plaque continues to grow.

For instance, the BELLES Trial (Beyond Endorsed Lipid Lowering with EBT Scanning (BELLES)), reported in 2005 showed that 650 women participants continued to increase heart scan scores 15% whether they took "high-intensity" statin therapy in the form of Lipitor 80 mg or "low-intensity" statin therapy as pravastatin 40 mg, even though the group taking Lipitor experienced twice the amount of LDL reduction. In other words, heart scan scores continued to increase at the same rate of 15% per year regardless of the intensity of LDL lowering by statin drug.

Another study reported in 2006, Effect of intensive versus standard lipid-lowering treatment with atorvastatin on the progression of calcified coronary atherosclerosis over 12 months: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind trial reported similar results. Of the 471 participants, those taking Lipitor 80 mg per day experienced 27% per year plaque growth (LDL cholesterol 87 mg/dl); those taking 10 mg Lipitor experienced 25% plaque growth (LDL 107 mg/dl). The intensity of statin therapy made no difference on the rate of plaque growth.

In other words, if we are content to sit back and take Lipitor or other statin drug, follow the conventional American Heart Association low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, we will experience somewhere between 15 to 27% annual plaque growth--year after year.

No wonder that conventional advice offered by your friendly neighborhood doctor will avoid (postpone?) only one heart attack in four.

Such is the nature of coronary plaque deceleration: growth is modestly slowed, but is not stopped. Nor is it reversed.

In the Track Your Plaque program, we grade deceleration of plaque growth into three distinct stages out of a total of five. (See Winning Your Personal War with Heart Disease: The Track Your Plaque 5 Stages of Success.)

Why be satisfied with deceleration? Why not aim for a total stop to plaque growth? Why not aim for stage 5 of Track Your Plaque success: reversal?

Comments (2) -

  • Nancy M.

    11/16/2007 3:36:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    I wish all doctors were as receptive of self-education as you are.  There's an article in Time Magazine about how many doctors are contemptuous of patients with initiative that take it upon themselves to learn about their ailments.,8599,1681838,00.html?imw=Y

    Keep up the great work!

  • Dr. Davis

    11/17/2007 1:44:00 PM |

    Hi, Nancy--

    Thanks for pointing out the Time article.

    The article is sadly representative of the prevailing view my colleagues hold on people struggling to get answers by helping themselves. As the author says, "When to punt is not a topic taught in medical school."

    Instead, the focus should be on how to develop BETTER information tools so that patients are empowered to overcome the jargon, sift through irrelevant information, and hone in on what is helpful and relevant.