Cholesterol crystals are sure sign a heart attack may loom

August 17, 2017 by George Abela , Sarina Gleason
The protruding elements seen in the different slides are cholesterol crystals. Those elements are arising from within the artery wall, causing tearing and damage to the artery. The colors have been added for enhancement and imagery. Credit: Michigan State University

A new Michigan State University study on 240 emergency room patients shows just how much of a role a person's cholesterol plays, when in a crystallized state, during a heart attack.

George Abela, lead author and chief cardiologist at MSU, analyzed the material that was obstructing the coronary arteries of patients who had suffered a and found that 89 percent of them had an excessive amount of these crystallized structures, referred to as .

The research is now published online in the American Journal of Cardiology.

These crystals are released from plaque that can build up in the heart and is often made up of fat, calcium and other substances as well. When this material hardens over time in the arteries, it's known as atherosclerosis.

"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," Abela said. "This expansion inside the wall of the artery can tear it and block causing a heart attack or stroke."

After entered the , Abela and his team suctioned out this plaque. They were able to see that clusters of large crystals had formed and were able to break through the plaque and walls of the arteries and then released into the heart. This caused damage by blocking blood flow.

"We now know to what great extent these crystals are contributing to a heart attack," Abela said.

This latest research also reconfirms what Abela discovered in an earlier study that cholesterol crystals activated the production of inflammation molecules, known as Interleukin-1 beta, which aggravate, or inflame, coronary arteries.

"Now that we've shown how extensive cholesterol crystals are irritating and blocking off these , treatments that dissolve these crystals may be used to reduce heart damage," Abela said.

Some of these treatments can include the use of statin drugs - often used to lower one's cholesterol - aspirin and solvents such as alcohol that can be injected in low doses into a vein during a heart attack. Using these options could allow doctors to improve patient outcomes and save more lives.

A recent clinical trial using an already FDA-approved antibody, known as canakinumab, has also shown to block the Interleukin-1 beta inflammation molecule and reduce the chances of a cardiac event.

"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 muscle from injury."

Abela also added that by simply controlling one's cholesterol by eating a healthy diet, exercising and taking statin medications as needed, could be the best way to prevent these crystals from forming.

Explore further: Calcium in arteries influences heart attack risk

More information: Frequency of Cholesterol Crystals in Culprit Coronary Artery Aspirate during Acute Myocardial Infarction and Their Relation to Inflammation and Myocardial Injury , American Journal of Cardiology (2017). DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2017.07.075

Related Stories

Calcium in arteries influences heart attack risk

August 8, 2017
Patients without calcium buildup in the coronary arteries had significantly lower risk of future heart attack or stroke despite other high risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or bad cholesterol levels, new ...

How the immune system causes heart disease

July 21, 2017
Heart disease is among the leading causes of death globally and imposes a significant burden on the health-care system. We know some of the causes of heart disease: smoking, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes ...

New way to see artery damage before heart disease sets in

July 12, 2017
Researchers have developed a new way to non-invasively peer into a person's arteries, detect inflammation, and possibly ward off heart disease before it becomes too severe to treat, a study said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?

November 17, 2017
The buildup of plaque in the heart's arteries is an unfortunate part of aging. But by studying the genetic makeup of people who maintain clear arteries into old age, researchers led by UNC's Jonathan Schisler, PhD, have identified ...

New model estimates odds of events that trigger sudden cardiac death

November 16, 2017
A new computational model of heart tissue allows researchers to estimate the probability of rare heartbeat irregularities that can cause sudden cardiac death. The model, developed by Mark Walker and colleagues from Johns ...

Popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings may change, damage heart muscle cells

November 16, 2017
Chemicals used to make some popular e-cigarette liquid flavorings—including cinnamon, clove, citrus and floral—may cause changes or damage to heart muscle cells, new research indicates.

Possible use for botulinum toxin to treat atrial fibrillation

November 16, 2017
From temporarily softening wrinkles to easing migraines, botulinum toxin has become a versatile medical remedy because of its ability to block nerve signals that can become bothersome or risky.

Proteome of the human heart mapped for the first time

November 15, 2017
A healthy heart beats about two billion times during a lifetime, thanks to the interplay of more than 10,000 proteins. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) and the German Heart Centre at the Technical ...

First transcatheter implant for diastolic heart failure successful

November 15, 2017
Results presented today at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions and published in Circulation show that a new device designed to treat diastolic heart failure is safe and effective. The first patient in the randomized, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.