Rigorous regimen aims to send heart disease packing

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Turning back the clock on heart disease is the aim of a new program at the Faculty of Medicine's St. Paul's Hospital campus.

Designed for 25-to 65-year-old men and women with heart disease, the Atherosclerosis Reversal Clinic (ARC) is helping patients aggressively reduce their risk factors to reverse coronary artery disease.

Unique in that it seeks to reduce all the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, the ARC program calls for a challenging regimen of diet, exercise and medication. Targets for cholesterol levels, diet, blood pressure, exercise, body fat and weight all go beyond those set by the American Heart Association.

"Until now we've only been able to slow down the progression of heart disease," says Sandra Barr, the program co-ordinator. "Now we want to return the arteries to a healthy state."

Started earlier this year, the program is an offshoot of St. Paul's Hospital Healthy Heart program and uses the expertise of a dietitian, nurse, exercise specialist, psychologist and heart specialists from UBC's Div. of Cardiology at St. Paul's Hospital.

Volunteers in the two-year program must be motivated to make changes to their lifestyle that include exercising a minimum of five sessions per week and reducing fat intake to only 15-20 per cent of all calories consumed -- much less than the 37 per cent average daily consumption.

"This is hard work," says Barr. "It isn't like taking a pill and getting cured."

Patients make 11 visits to the ARC in the first year and four in the second year for progress reviews and tests including ultrasound measures of neck and elbow artery thickness.

"We're pushing the limits with this program," says Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, medical director of the Healthy Heart program. "But even if patients can make a minute change to their artery capacity, the payoff will be significant, adding healthy years to their lives."

The leading cause of heart disease, atherosclerosis is caused by an accumulation of cholesterol in the artery walls. The resulting lesion may block the coronary arteries and lead to severe chest pain and, if the artery ruptures, heart attack. Heart disease is responsible for approximately 6,000 deaths each year in B.C.

The clinic team hopes to enrol 150 people in the program over the next 18 months. Individuals interested in joining the clinic must have the consent of their doctor, attend an information session and undergo a series of tests before starting the program. For further information contact Sandra Barr at 631-5600.