Why We Focus on Inflammation When It Comes to Heart Disease Prevention

Merritt W. Dunlap, MD
By Merritt W. Dunlap, MD
March 1, 2018
Understanding Inflammation is Important for Heart Disease Prevention

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. This is nothing new – heart disease has been identified as a major public health problem for the past 80 years. 

What is new is how we’re trying to prevent it. Since about half heart attacks in the United States occur in people with normal cholesterol levels, we’re focusing on more than just cholesterol levels — we’re also looking at inflammation, particularly since it’s involved in all the stages of heart disease development. 

Smoking, high blood pressure and high blood sugar inflame the arteries and damage the inner lining, known as the endothelium. Once damaged, it’s easier for LDL (bad cholesterol) particles to enter the endothelium, accumulate in the arterial wall, turn to plaque and block the artery.     

Your body tries removing the cholesterol from the arteries by signaling white blood cells to enter the vessel and release myeloperoxidase (MPO), an enzyme that kills harmful bacteria. But there’s a downside, MPO also: 

  • Releases a bleach-like substance that erodes the arterial walls, causing arterial plaque to become unstable and risk rupturing. If the plaque ruptures, your body forms a clot to patch the area, which can impede blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke. 
  • Reduces the effectiveness of HDLs (good cholesterol), raising the risk of arterial plaque build-up and interfering with blood flow. 
  • Removes nitric oxide, a chemical that helps decrease blood pressure by allowing arteries to expand. Without nitric oxide, arteries stiffen, and the inflammation persists.
  • Predicts future risk of coronary artery disease in healthy people regardless of other known risk factors!

This is why it’s so important to get an MPO screening and work with your doctor to live a heart healthy lifestyle and find out what your risk really is.

Cleveland Heart Lab developed a proprietary, advanced diagnostic screener that helps identify the level of MPO in your blood. The simple blood test may save lives, as it enables doctors to assess your risk for developing heart disease and having a heart attack within the next six months to two years regardless of other risk factors you may have.

In my Carson City, NV practice, I order the screening as part of my patient’s annual lab work during their MDVIP Wellness Program. For patients with elevated MPO levels, I find the root cause and make every effort to eliminate it. 

If you have questions about MPO or the MPO screening, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated doctor. Looking for a primary care physician? Physicians in MDVIP-affiliated practices can customize a wellness plan for you. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

This blog reflects the medical opinion of Dr. Merritt Dunlap, an MDVIP-affiliated board-certified family practitioner, Diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice and a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and not necessarily the opinion of all physicians in the MDVIP national network.


This content was last reviewed February 2021.

Similar Posts
Lower Inflammation to Reduce Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke / Dr. Andrea Klemes / February 14, 2018
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What Role Does Sugar Play in Heart Disease? / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / November 6, 2017

About the Author
Merritt W. Dunlap, MD
Merritt W. Dunlap, MD

Merritt W. Dunlap, MD is an MDVIP-affiliated physician, who’s been practicing medicine for more than 25 years. He’s board certified in family medicine and Diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice. Dr. Dunlap graduated from the University of Nevada School of Medicine and completed his residency at Naval Hospital, Camp Pendleton in Camp Pendleton, CA. He’s an affiliate clinical faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine at University of Nevada School of Medicine and has won numerous honors and awards including Doctor of the Year at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center and Award of Excellence, University of Nevada School of Medicine.

View All Posts By Merritt W. Dunlap, MD
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