Archive for June, 2011

An atherosclerotic  plaque is termed  vulnerable when it’s  future behavior is unpredictable .A vulnerable  plaque has a  tendency to get occluded at any time.

Anatomically  a  vulnerable  is  present  , if the lipid core is more , fibrous cap is  thin  and  a  large lipid  core hanging eccentrically. A plaque with high temperature (Hot plaques ,febrile plaques)detected by OCT/Raman spectroscopy or thermography

Note the T cells and macrophages wage a losing battle against a metal monster !

What is the best method to calm down these vulnerable , hot ,inflamed plaques ?

A stent which scaffolds a plaque is believed to stabilse it  and  make it less vulnerable to rupture. This is the most optimistic view on coronary stenting .

Here comes  a pessimistic view !

A metal inside a coronary artery covering is  additional  threat .A metal  is   perennially  thrombogenic  ,especially the drug eluting stents which suppress the normal endothelial  function .

What  is the realistic view  ?

A stent should be used cautiously and judiciously in coronary plaques  with   high risk features  .Here  a  stent  in all probability  converts a vulnerable plaque  into a  relatively stable plaque

When stenting is done indiscriminately( without application of mind )  in stable non flow limiting lesions  stability is replaced with vulnerability.

Is it not curious to know  any angina  in a patient  who  had   PCI  for chronic  stable angina  is labeled  as unstable angina. 

Vulnerable stents

Following are typical  clinical scenarios   where stents could  carry a vulnerability  tag . 

  1. Poorly deployed  stents
  2. Properly deployed (but unnecessarily deployed especially in chronic stable angina )
  3. All Bifurcation stents
  4. Distal left main stents
  5. Stents with plaque prolapse
  6. Finally and most importantly all  drug eluting stents are considered  vulnerable ! (That’s why  our patients has to  live at the mercy of dual platelet blockers , life long.  Of course , there is no life time warranty   that  drugs do their  job properly)

And now . . .  you answer my  question !

Can  stenting convert a stable plaque  into vulnerable plaque ?

  • If  “yes’ is your answer your patients are in safe hands .
  • If  ” No”   is  your  answer ,  you are  fit to become a leading  interventional cardiologist !

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Medical  research can be divided into few  broad  categories

  1. Basic science  research  in animal models
  2. Basic science  research   in Human
  3. Clinical : Bedside-  observational
  4. Clinical:  Epidemiological
  5. Community based long term data analysis
  6. Interventional -Drug /Device/Surgical

*Logically the  top 5  should  constitute  the bulk of research  ,  in reality    last one wins the race with considerable ease . Why ?

The important issues that  confront  today’s medical research  starts  right from the  “Aim” of the research ,  methods , materials statistics,  and  goes on  to   ethical issues , conflicts, futility ,  gimmicks  0f  publication  ,  marketing and ultimately left  for human assimilation .

(Read a related article in this blog   can  Aim of a study be wrong ?)

Data(s)  won’t  lie  . . .humans do  !

Science is nothing but collection of  facts ,  rechecking  the facts , and  finally confirming ,  they are indeed  facts. So medical  data collection becomes vital .  Data,  if  properly collected ,  wont lie.   Bias is always an issue in prospective trials. Further ,  and whenever and wherever  scientifically  motivated  human  beings interact with  data  the later   becomes a vulnerable  target and  get manipulated   for various reasons . (Read the famous article on data torturing  in  NEJM : I will link it soon  ) So blinding  becomes  mandatory   and it should  be total as some studies  tend  to  gain vision half way through !

Image courtesey : Jupeter images

Simplicity of observational studies.

We  give undue importance to RCTs . What we fail to understand is RCTs are required only  in selected situations in medical research (New drugs and interventions ) Meanwhile , we can do wonders with retrospective observational  data. These  data  can not be  manipulated  as the events  have occurred already and those people who collect or record the data  wouldn’t know this data is going to be utilized  for a study (This  , in fact  is  equivalent  to 100 % natural blinding and constitute a  real world study )

Observational  study can involve  patient behavior ,    disease behavior  , community impact, drug action, investigation modality , etc  . . .etc  . Your mind is the limit . Cost of doing a observational study is less but the impact on the society can be great .

Observing skills are the  biggest causality in modern medical times , This was  only scientific weapon of  our ancestors had , which they  used in an exemplary fashion .( Recall how Heberden described angina and Harvey taught us about circulation without even ECG and X RAY chest )

Fraud in medical research

Wherever big money is flowing corruption and fraud is unavoidable . . .at the  least . . .  we  should recognize it

( Many journals  just point out this possibility by simply displaying message of conflicts .They do not bother more than that  . . . just a warning message  )

Now in the modern scientific world  ,   even as the   genuine contributions   from our ancestors  left to  stare  the back of us  , we try to indulge in all sort  of unpleasant things.

In an audit against fraud in medical  research ,  it was found most of the fraudulent research happened with drug and device trials and few in basic science involving genetics and molecular medicine . It  was  rare to identify fraud in research involving purely clinical and  epidemiological  analysis .

Drug trials  need to be prospective . Vested interest can play  havoc in prospective data .There is a  thing called steering committee in all major studies   . . . we do not know what does the  word  steering really   mean .

There has been many  occasions  even well conducted studies turn out be  fraudulent . Now we realise many such studies are struggling to prove its worthiness .

In fact  it is argued every study before getting published   should undergo a  global ,  independent  trial   monitoring  board for genuineness  of the study . (Not the customary  peer review !)

Final message ( Sorry its  a  long one !)

We have a huge problem  here . I am afraid  we  haven’t even  understood ,  what  we  mean by medical  research !

For today’s   youngsters  medical  research means doing sophisticated  tests in nano- labs  , human genome  mapping ,  space age imaging modalities  or  involving a multi- billion dolor drug trials . This is absolute  falsehood.

What we need to do is   “search” , ” search”  ,  search again (That is   why it is called re-search )  for all those elusive  problems  our patients   face .Not only in their body , in their  home , in their community,  etc . Every  patient  teach us  few points,    observing and learning new things  and  publishing is  also an important aspect of  research .One can do  a instant   research in the crowded  OPD of a hospital   , in the wards , (What is the profile  of fever pattern in a winter season in your hospital ? does it reveal a new viral epidemic ?)

An ideal research  should  identify a problem and suggest a practical solution to a given problem .There are millions of such issue waiting for our attention in the bed side.  But what is happening  currently ? Current medical research is largely direction less ,  fueled by vested interest ,  makes  sure it avoids  all genuine problem areas !

Many studies  happen  based on  flimsy scientific   basis  .We are still  wasting our time to increase human HDL levels. ( Not with standing  the famous Torcetrapib fiasco  )   .Hundreds  of thousand of dollars   are pumped into this  research even after realising  only the  endogenous HDLs generated by natural methods like  exercise   are  the really  good HDL !)

While we do million dollar research   with a dubious risk factor called  high sensitive C reactive protein  ,   there is  no takers against number one killer disease of human kind  namely  “The  poverty” (WHO ICD codeZ59.5 )*

Let us prey   God  to instill common sense to all of us  . Patients  suffer with disease and we suffer from irresponsibility  or reduced responsibility ! It  makes us happy at-least few forces  like Lancet  , British medical journal etc are fighting lone war  against this  ailment  medical science is suffering .

*Please note :  http://www.icd10data.com   WHO labeled poverty as disease many years  back without much fanfare ! It is rarely mentioned in  any  graduate student**  medical text  in whom our future lies .  I do not know whether  Wars  and terrorist acts  been included as disease  or not !

**Our students  rattle about  about the  exotic  tick borne  Lyme disease happening once a year in remote hills ,    while  most will stare blank   when asked  how to diagnose and  treat  nutritional  anemia with  which millions suffer  every day !

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While anatomical  grading of obstructive  coronary lesions are  quiet easy ,functionalc assessment is always difficult.The famous TIMI grading system had one unique problem .TIMI 1 and 2 grades are relatively easy to grade. TIMI 3 flow  which corresponds to normal penetration  and normal  distal perfusion  . This distal perfusion was entirely optical .

This was an important issue , in assessing post  PCI or thromolysis patients . It was realised much later , TIMI 3 flow is  stunningly  heterogenous group  .It was  ironical  ,  even after a successful PCI ,  restoration of TMI3 flow  could not be relied upon as an index of successful PCI  .

So , the PAMI study group included time as additional factor in grading TIMI 3 flow. PAMI 3 is  essentailly same as  TIMI 3  flow but  with a  condition , complete  distal vessel filling  must  occur within 3 cardiac cycle . PAMI 3 can be termed as a   refined version of TIMI 3 introduced in the evaluation of success of primary PCI . This helps us  define  or  diagnose   slow filling .

What are the other ways  to grade TIMI 3 flow

  • Myocardial blush index
  • TIMI frame count ( < 25 frames )

PAMI : Primary angioplasty in myocardial infarction

TIMI :  thromolysis in acute myocardial infarction



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When you  encounter  a patient  with shock and  hypotension , the first ( instinct ) response would be to  start  an  IV line and push fluids rapidly . This is more so if  the patient is a child. This is what medicine has taught us for over a century . Now this  NEJM article surprises us with  its conclusion.

The accompanying  editorial in NEJM reiterates  a  fact . . . “In medicine there is nothing called  dictum”   , what you perceive as life saving treatment  will be doing the opposite !

Such is  the fragility of  present day  medical facts.

Please  remember , in medical science  not only  the drugs  have  expiry date even  some of the  break through  concepts suffer from it . 

This study may not have  great implications for cardiologists  but the filed of cardiology is also  infested with  many such false dictum(s ) are waiting to be damned !

In this funny world . when the  scientific methods are  imperfect  ,  we have to realise  two such U turns make  the  original path right .

Similarly ,  some of  those who do  not  make the initial   path correction ultimately  travel  in  the right path !

Message to patients

Many of my patients often wonder how two diagonally opposite  views are expressed  by doctors  for a given medical  condition .  My simple answer to them is do not ever  try to understand your medical condition beyond a point , . .  .  we  our-self  have not yet  mastered it  !

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LIMA (Left internal mammary or thoracic )  is an unique  artery ,   incidentally runs close to  heart ,  has  a  privilege  of supporting   of human  heart in its hour of crises ! .  CABG  surgery was started with saphenous grafts in 1967 .  We have  since moved  on ,  from venous grafts to  total arterial grafts .  LIMA as a graft for coronary artery was a  great innovation for cardiac surgery  .Now , it can be stated  ” CABG should not be done without a LIMA graft “

Advantages of LIMA

LIMA   has good anatomical  match for LAD. The 10 year  patency  rate is very favorable (60-80%) .LIMA is also a live graft enriched with nitric oxide , as it has native  communication with subclavian artery  .


The internal mammary artery  originates  from the under surface of the first portion of the subclavian, opposite the thyrocervical trunk. It descends behind  the  upper six ribs at a distance of about 1.25 cm. from the margin of the sternum, and at the level of the sixth intercostal space divides into the musculophrenic and superior epigastric arteries.

The branches of the internal mammary are:
Pericardiacophrenic. Intercostal.
Anterior Mediastinal. Perforating.
Pericardial. Musculophrenic.
Sternal. Superior Epigastric.

There are few Anatomical issues for LIMA

Subclavian -LIMA ostial stenosis : Rare

Looping of LIMA is rarely an issue in hemodynamic point of view. But some  believe  a looped up LIMA is slightly prone for graft disease.Complex looping are reported rarely.

A loop and a early branch of LIMA : What is the implication ?

Abnormal  or premature branching pattern  of LIMA  needs clipping as it may divert blood supply to LAD.Terminal branches can be used as a sequential graft to a branch of LAD  usually a diagonal. In spite of all these issues , LIMA is  rarely unsuitable either anatomically or physiologically .It is a safest vessel to graft.

Future of LIMA  graft assessment.

Currently selective LIMA angiogram is the gold standard.

MDCT (64 slice) gives stunning images of LIMA graft , but unfortunately , it has little value for functional assessment .

Functional assessment of LIMA graft By  angiographic frame count  is being attempted in our institute.Will be reported in 2012.

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Is hypertension really a major risk factor for CAD ?

    1. Yes it is !
    2. No . . . it is not !
    3. May be !
    4. I don’t think so !

Ans : Any of the above can be a  right response , depending upon our basal and perceived  level of knowledge .

Answer analysis

  1. SHT  is  one of the risk factor for CAD  agreed ,  but definitely not a major one , as SHT per-se rarely precipitate a STEMI
  2. Unless SHT occurs with dyslipidemia, smoking or diabetes it is  rare to cause ACS.
  3. The only  adverse effect of SHT  is  , it has a potential  to aggravate atherosclerosis  by promoting epithelial injury and dysfunction.
  4. Hypertension is a well known  major risk factor for cerebro vascular disease while it is minor risk factor for CAD !
  5. We do not know yet why cerebral vessels are intolerant to high blood pressure while coronaries are pretty happy  with it !

Final comment

SHT is not a major risk factor  for CAD ! At worst , it can propagate chronic CAD. This sort of reasoning  may be considered a huge controversy  . . .but it is really not !

  • One evidence for the above observation is  , we  have  been struggling hard  for over a half a century  to prove a elusive  point that controlling blood pressure  to optimal levels  would  dramatically reduce  cardiac   events !
  • Further,HT’s  relationship with acute coronary syndrome especially STEMI  is vague , it is very rare for patients with accelerated hypertension or malignant hypertension to  present with STEMI *

* Caution :Young doctors should not get confused with this seemingly  controversial observation .This write-up , tries  to convey  a point  , SHT may not be that bad for coronary arteries when compared to cerebral arteries . However BP control remains  vital in  all patients who have  developed a cardiac  event or in patients with multiple risk factors .

Please note ** SHT is still  a powerful risk factor for cardiac failure.(Acute LVF to be precise ) ***SHT can aggravate unstable angina , but very  rare to precipitate unstable angina.**** SHT ./High intra-coronary  pressure can theoretically  dissect or fissure a plaque . (The fact that , HT is so prevalent in a community  but spontaneous  coronary  dissections are not !  should make us think further !)

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What  is the   “secret of success”   among current generation  cardiologists ?

A . Strong foundations in cardiology with excellent clinical skills and a rational approach to the given problem.

B.  The  secret lies in the  nimble  fingers  which  acts  almost , like an extension of catheters  in cath lab !

C.  The speed with which he can mobilise a cath lab team in an ” off – office hour”  primary  PCI !

D. It is the the cunning art of  converting coronary  angiograms into angioplasties , by lucid  discussions  with patients and their   relatives  in the the silent cath lab corridors  !


When this question was posed to a group of cardiologists ,  D  was considered  most important B,and C came close behind   and   A  was  probably least important  and few thought  “A” character  is rather an  impediment to  become a successful cardiologist !

*Unfortunately a successful cardiologist is defined in India by number of angioplasties he does per month, What  a disgrace to a great medical specialty called cardiology !

What is normal CAG to angioplasty conversion ratio ?

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