Can treating inflammation reduce risk of cardiovascular disease?
Can treating inflammation reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? That question is the focus of two new clinical trials; one is being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and pharmaceutical manufacturer Novartis.
The researchers are evaluating whether treating inflammation can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke; if they obtain favorable results, the findings could lead to new therapies to treat cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have primarily focused on well-known risk factors such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol levels. The new studies will test the theory that inflammation plays a significant role in the underlying biology that makes heart disease the number one cause of death and stroke the number four cause of death in the United States.
Inflammation is a component of the body’s normal healing response to injury. When the walls of the coronary arteries, which provide blood to the heart, or the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain, are damaged from the effects of negative health factors such as smoking, obesity, and elevated cholesterol, the immune system as part of the inflammatory response releases cells that travel to the damaged area to repair the injury. However, the repeated attack of irritants, particularly in individuals with genetic factors for cardiovascular disease, the immune system can overreact. Instead of protecting the blood vessels, the inflammation becomes chronic; thus, leading to the accumulation and potential rupture of plaques (arterial deposits), which can result in heart attacks and strokes.
During the past two decades, research has revealed that individuals with chronic inflammation are at significantly higher risk of heart attack and stroke compared with those with evidence of little or no such inflammation. This inflammation can be detectable at low levels with a high-sensitivity test for a marker called C-reactive protein. Whether the risk can be reduced by inhibiting or shutting down the process with anti-inflammatory agents drugs, however, is currently not known.