Which treatment advances have led to a reduction in mortality from coronary artery atherosclerosis?

Updated: Apr 09, 2021
  • Author: Sandy N Shah, DO, MBA, FACC, FACP, FACOI; Chief Editor: Yasmine S Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP  more...
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Nonetheless, there has been a 30% reduction in mortality from CAD since the late 20th century. Many factors have contributed to this, including the introduction of coronary care units, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), thrombolytic therapy, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), and a renewed emphasis on lifestyle modification. (See Treatment and Management.)

A major advance in the treatment of coronary artery atherosclerosis has been the development of a refined understanding of the nature of atherosclerotic plaque and the phenomenon of plaque rupture, which is the predominant cause of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) and AMI. Cardiologists now know that in many cases (perhaps more than half), the plaque that ruptures and results in the clinical syndromes of ACS and AMI is less than 50% occlusive. These so-called vulnerable plaques, as compared with stable plaques, consist of a large lipid core, inflammatory cells, and thin, fibrous caps that are subjected to greater biomechanical stress, thus leading to rupture that perpetuates thrombosis and ACS. The process of plaque rupture is illustrated in the diagram below.

Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis. A vulnerable plaq Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis. A vulnerable plaque and the mechanism of plaque rupture.

The treatment of such ruptured plaques has taken a leap forward with the widespread use of newer antiplatelet and antithrombotic agents. Nonetheless, the greatest impact on the CAD epidemic can only be achieved through therapies tailored to prevent the rupture of these vulnerable plaques. Such plaques are likely more prevalent than occlusive plaques are. Currently, it is not possible to clinically identify most vulnerable plaques, and no data support the local treatment of them. On the other hand, strong evidence from many randomized trials supports the efficacy of statin-class drugs in lipid lowering and of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors in improving endothelial function, with the use of both types of agents likely leading to plaque stabilization. (See Medication.)

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