Cholesterol Crystals: Your Earliest Warning Of An Impending Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs every 20 seconds in the United States, and an estimated total of 1.5 million heart attacks occur every year. Those statistics aren't meant to frighten, but they are meant to demonstrate how wide scale of an issue heart attacks really are.

Fortunately, a recent study has moved the medical community one step closer to fighting a common cause of heart attacks.

Cholesterol Is No Joke

We know that high cholesterol over the long-term can be dangerous, but only recently has it become clear how significant of a factor it can be in a heart episode once the cholesterol has turned into a crystallized form.

"In previous studies, we showed that when cholesterol goes from a liquid to a solid, or crystal state, it expands in volume like ice and water," said Dr. George Abela, lead author of the study and chief cardiologist at Michigan State University and pictured above. "This expansion inside the wall of the artery can tear it and block blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke."

Fat and calcium are among some of the substances that cause a plaque build-up in the heart, and the cholesterol crystals are released from the plaque. Atherosclerosis is what occurs when this material in the arteries has hardened.

A Study Of Over 240 Heart Attack Patients

The study involved 240 emergency room patients, and once they entered the ER, Abela and his team would suction out the plaque in these patients' arteries. In all of these patients, they were able to see that these large cholesterol crystals had formed and been breaking off the artery walls before being released into the heart. These crystals then blocked blood flow and caused damage to the heart.

"We now know to what great extent these crystals are contributing to a heart attack," Abela said. "And now that we've shown how extensive cholesterol crystals are irritating and blocking off these arteries, treatments that dissolve these crystals may be used to reduce heart damage."

Treatments include medication to lower a person's cholesterol as well as alcohol solvents and aspirin that can be injected into a vein during a heart attack. Ultimately, some of these treatments might be able to save more lives as well as minimize lingering damage from a heart attack.

"Saving heart muscle is the most important aspect of treating a heart attack," Abela said. "So, if we are able to provide patients with better, more targeted treatments, then this could help open up and calm down the aggravated artery and protect the heart muscle from injury."

Diet Is The Best Preventative Medicine

As much as we might not want to hear it, Abela concludes that the best way to prevent the risk of these crystals forming and a heart attack occurring is a healthy diet, exercise, and medication when needed. Yes, that means less pizza and more vegetables!

All of Abela and his team's research has been published and can be found online in the American Journal of Cardiology.