Explosive plaque growth

Every once in a while, we will see someone experience more-than-expected rate of coronary plaque growth, a sudden jump in heart scan scores. I'm talking about increases in score of 50%, even 100%, sometimes despite favorable lipid and lipoprotein patterns.

It's not always easy to pin this phenomenon down, since we often detect it after a year or more on a repeat heart scan. It would be wonderfully insightful to perform heart scans more frequently and track plaque growth more precisely, but of course, radiation exposure is the most important limiting factor, as is cost.

So this list is, admittedly, speculative. It is based on observation, on presumptive associations between events and heart scan scores. But, judging from what we do confidently know about coronary atherosclerotic plaque, I think these observations make physiologic sense.

These are the sorts of increases in heart scan score that can scare the heck out of you, silent yet explosive growth of coronary atherosclerotic plaque that can grow with no warning whatsoever.

Image courtesy Wikipedia and the United States Geological Survey.

Factors which I have observed to possibly be responsible for explosive plaque growth include:

--Overwhelming tragedy such as death of a loved one, financial ruin, divorce. One of my early and catastrophic failures was a young man in his early 40s who, in the space of just a few months, suffered the loss of his mother, a brother, and his mother-in-law, while working a high-stress job. His heart scan score doubled from around 100 to 200 in one year, despite perfect lipoproteins. He had a heart attack shortly after the second score, despite a normal stress test just months earlier. (Pessimism is tragedy's weak cousin, but one that still holds power to corrupt our otherwise best efforts at plaque reversal.)

--Substantial weight gain. In the early years of the Track Your Plaque program, before it was even called "Track Your Plaque," I witnessed a man more than double his score from 1100 to 2400 in 18 months just by allowing himself to gain 40 lbs. (I don't know what became of him. His life apparently suffered other disasters, as well, and we lost track of him.)

--Poorly-controlled diabetes. High blood sugars out of control have yielded explosive growth.

--Kidney disease--However, I am uncertain of how much this overlaps with a deficiency of vitamin D's active form, 1,25-OH-vitamin D3, the form that is often deficient in people with dysfunctional kidneys.

--An inflammatory disease that is out of control, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis.

--This is very speculative, but I've witnessed explosive growth after vaccine administration that yielded strange viral-like symptoms. In this one instance, the man was getting heart scans (on his own) every three to six months and described a severe illness following a vaccine administered in preparation for travel out of the U.S.

--Unrecognized low thyroid function--i.e., hypothyroidism. This is easily corrected with thyroid hormone replacement.

These factors can also be relative and they can be overcome. Look at our current Track Your Plaque reversal record-holder: a 53-year old woman who dropped her heart scan score an amazing 63% despite the loss of a loved one during the 15 months of her program. Despite an overwhelming tragedy, she overcame the potential adverse effects and set a record, probably a record for the entire world.

Comments (3) -

  • chcikadeenorth

    12/11/2007 2:54:00 PM |

    thank you, very timely and informative, explains allot of my increase as well.But I am working to become a Low Plague Poster Baby Boomer.

  • Anonymous

    12/11/2007 11:25:00 PM |

    For someone that has explosive plaque, how would you try to treat?  Would lowering matrix metalloproteinase by prescribing doxycycline be an appropriate next step?

  • Dr. Davis

    12/12/2007 3:17:00 AM |

    First, consider correction of the cause.

    Unfortunately, a cause is not always identifiable, at least one you can do something about. Yes, anti-inflammatory strategies against MMP might be useful. Otherwise, there is, with present knowledge, no specific therapy for, say, grief.