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CNN Today

New Findings on Heart Disease Suggest Surprising Factors

Aired February 26, 2001 - 4:15 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: In our look at health news today: We already knew high cholesterol and high blood pressure increase the risk for heart disease. But now, researchers have evidence of other, more surprising factors.

Here's medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You've heard the story -- someone with no obvious signs of heart disease has a heart attack. A possible explanation: inflammation of the arteries. It can be measured by testing for c-reactive protein in the blood.

What's causing the inflammation? One theory: a viral or bacterial infection. A study in the journal "Circulation" points to some suspects: recurrent sinitis, bronchitis, and possibly even urinary tract infections.

Another study has suggested gum disease as a culprit. The small study found 85 percent of heart attack patients had periodontal disease compared to 29 percent of people who did not have heart disease.

DR. SIDNEY SMITH, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, CHAPEL HILL: It looks like there's is an association between periodontal disease and heart attacks. These findings are very important. They open the door for further research.

ROWLAND: Another study points to a bacteria known to cause ulcers called H. pylori. In the laboratory it caused blood platelets to clump.

DR. PAUL RIDKER, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: But it's important to point out that there are many other possibilities, including the processes by which cholesterol is processed in our bodies, as well as a variety of other genetic and other inherited differences.

ROWLAND: Scientists are fairly certain they do know one cause of inflammation: atherosclerosis. High cholesterol can bring on inflammation, which can lead to a heart attack.

Other studies suggest it's possible to reduce this inflammation. Researchers gave a type of cholesterol drug called statins, then looked at the arteries on an MRI scan.

DR. VALENTIN FUSTER, MOUNT SINAI MEDICAL CENTER: These plaques tend to get smaller, and at the same time, the cholesterol that is deposited in the plaque tends to go away, which we know, goes along also with the removal of the inflammation inside the plaque.

ROWLAND: Still another study looked at more than 6,000 patients who took statin drugs, and found the drugs lowered cholesterol as well as inflammation.

RIDKER: What the new data suggests is that in the absence of a high cholesterol level but in the presence of a high level of c- reactive protein, the statins are still a very effective group of drugs.

ROWLAND: That means, with the help of statins, some patients with inflammation could avoid a heart attack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: All right. That report from Rhonda Rowland in our medical unit.

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