August 2014

Asymptomatic Heart Disease

Asymptomatic Heart Disease

Year after year starting from childhood atherosclerotic plaque is deposited in the arteries and veins. In the 1950's the U.S. military performed autopsies on causalities during the Korean War. Nearly 77% of the young men age 18 to 24 had significant occlusion of their coronary arteries.  

Recent studies demonstrated that over half the children aged 10 to 14 had fatty streaks in their blood vessels and in 8% of them those streaks were beginning to look similar to the atherosclerotic plaque found in adults. Atherosclerotic plaque occurs in nearly 90% of all adult men and women over the age of 45.

Now that we understand the magnitude of the problem lets look at the problem itself -- asymptomatic heart disease and its importance. Asymptomatic heart disease suggests that atherosclerotic plaque exists and that it has reached a degree where there is significant damage, however, there are no external symptoms to let us know that there is any damage to our blood vessels. The normal diagnostic testing parameters are generally normal with the exception of some elevation of serum cholesterol or triglycerides.

There is no chest pain, minimal shortness of breath (if present often more likely related to lack of exercise than heart disease). Electrocardiograms are negative as are stress electrocardiograms. Since there are no symptoms it is unlikely that more sensitive diagnostic testing such as angiogram has been done or will be done.

Generally the individual lives a perfectly normal life and usually has little reason to believe that he is at risk. Statistics tell us that some 300,000 people will die suddenly or prior to medical attention.



Diagram 1


Heart disease affects nearly one-half of all people in the United States.

To identify whether you are at risk consider the following:

  • If you have a family history, especially father, brothers, grandparents or first uncles you can consider yourself to
       be at risk.
  • If you eat a diet high in saturated fat, dairy, butter, cheeses, red meats, chicken with the skin, you are at risk.
  • If you drink more than 2 ounces of alcohol daily you are at risk.
  • If you smoke more than one-half package of cigarettes a day, you are at risk.