An upside to aneurysms?
It’s never a good thing to have an aortic aneurysm, a weakness in the walls of the body’s largest artery, which rises from the heart’s left ventricle to supply the body with oxygenated blood. But in the September issue of the journal Chest, John Elefteriades, M.D., chief of cardiothoracic surgery, and colleagues reported a “silver lining in the cloud of aneurysm disease.”
Atherosclerotic plaques, which can cause heart attacks or strokes if they rupture, begin to form in most people’s arteries by age 20. But Elefteriades and other Yale surgeons had noticed that even elderly patients with aortic aneurysms seemed to have virtually plaque-free arteries, “like a baby’s or a young child’s.”
When the team tested this naked-eye clinical observation with precise radiological measurements, they found that patients with ascending aortic aneurysms were indeed far less prone to plaques. Elefteriades has shown in other studies that aortic aneurysms are inherited, and he suggests that examining the same genes could bring new insights into atherosclerosis. Any breakthrough there would be invaluable, since cardiovascular disease, Elefteriades notes, is “the leading cause of death in the Western world.”