Inflammation is the body’s natural defense to protect itself against harm.

Inflammation is defined as a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection. There are two types of inflammation: chronic and temporary or acute. Acute occurs, for example, when you cut your finger, get certain types of infection or even get a sunburn. Inflammation happens due to our immune system sending white blood cells to surround and protect the area, thereby creating swelling and redness.

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Chronic inflammation occurs in response to unwanted substances in the body such as excess fat cells and toxins. Temporary inflammation is a healthy function with chronic inflammation, in contrast, meaning that something is wreaking havoc in the body.

Inflammation and Your Cardiovascular Health

Deepak Bhatt, M.D., chief of cardiology for the VA Boston Healthcare System, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School said, “Exactly how inflammation plays a role in heart attack and stroke remains a topic of ongoing research. It appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels.”

With inflammation, atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the inner walls of arteries, can develop. This process causes the narrowing of arteries and increases risks of blockages. These blockages can lead to blood clots that can cause heart attacks. Temporary blockages in an artery can also cause transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are warning signs of stroke.

Things that can contribute to inflammation:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Lack of physical activity or exercise
  • Stress
  • Periodontal disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • High refined sugar diet
  • “Bad” LDL cholesterol

Cholesterol plaques can also be the cause of heart incidents. Reducing cholesterol by eating a heart-healthy diet and lowering other risk factors (listed above) can help prevent cholesterol from forming.

How can you know if you have arterial inflammation? There is a blood test called the hsCRP that measures C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a marker for inflammation, including arterial inflammation. About 20 years ago, Harvard researchers found that men with higher CRP levels had three times the risk of heart attack and twice the risk of stroke as men with little or no inflammation.

If you are concerned about inflammation and your heart health, consult with your doctor.

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