Why Early Detection Is Important

Heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become blocked, usually by plaque or a clot.  Angina is caused by a narrowing of blood vessels that feed the heart muscle.

The earlier changes in the coronary arteries are discovered, the more opportunity there is for effective treatment to slow or halt the disease.  Electron beam tomography (EBT) can detect changes far earlier than any other method.

The diagram below shows the progress from a healthy coronary artery to a life-threatening blockage.  Click on the illustration to see a description of each stage of the disease.
 

1. Healthy Artery

Healthy arteries have a smooth lining that keeps platelets from sticking, avoiding the formation of clots.

2. Early Stages of Atherosclerosis

Over time, damage to the interior lining of the artery allows LDL (also known as “bad cholesterol”) to penetrate the artery wall.

3. Inflammatory Process

LDL in the artery wall sets off an inflammatory process.  White blood cells build up and the artery wall thickens.

4. Early Atherosclerotic Lesions

As the inflammation progresses, the artery wall becomes thicker and less elastic.  The space inside the artery (the “lumen”) narrows, so less blood is able to flow through it.

5. Vulnerable Plaque

Most heart attacks are caused when vulnerable plaque ruptures and a clot forms that completely blocks the artery.

6. Stable Plaque

After a vulnerable plaque ruptures, the healing process forms stable plaque.  Although stable plaques are less likely to rupture, they can thicken the artery wall and reduce blood flow to the heart.  About one third of heart attacks are caused by stable plaque.

 

A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that early detection and treatment of heart disease can save lives.