How long does it take for plaqueing to occur?

In 2006 I began having chest pain on exertion and decided to see a cardiologist. The woman I chose told me my blood pressure was sky high and that I needed a nuclear stress test and then most probably a catherization. Needless to say I was alarmed, specifically because I knew I had an allergy to dye. I had the stress test and was told that there were no problems and the a catherization would not be necessary. She did mention that I had some valve issues, but no other problems. She sent me back to my GP to monitor my BP and cholesterol. He was not concerned about my cholesterol and put me on Beta Blockers for my BP. I hated the exhaustion that went with those and stopped taking them. Three yrs. later, this past July I had a heart attack. I was told that I had a lot of plaqueing, and a stent was placed in a bi-furcated artery that was blocked. However, one of my arteries is 100% blocked. I have collateral vessels that have taken up the slack, but my concern is that, can my artery go from having no problems to being completely blocked 3 yrs. later? This worries me so much as I have much plaqueing in my other coronary arteries at various levels. No one seems to have a good answer for me. All the Dr. said this last time was that no test is perfect. Also, he said that I have a minimal mitral valve prolapse, but no other valve problems. Yikes! Does anyone have correct information? I worry enough about my heart now without the confusion of many different answers by different health care providers. Very frustrating.

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The reality of the matter is that no one can give you an accurate answer on how long it might take for plaque to build up in your arteries. There are so many variables that there is just no way. I was told that plaque actually starts forming in our arteries when we are in our teens. How much and how fast it progress depends on your own physiology, family history, diet, exercise, etc. I had a clear heart cath in May of 2007. I passed a nuclear stress test in August of 2007. I had triple bypass surgery December 2007. So I went from no new blockages (had 2 stents already) for certain in May to three almost complete blockages by December.
That said, a year and 2 months post bypass my arteries were again clear with minimal new plaque build up.

You have to be in tuned to the signals your body is giving you. You have to be vigiliant about diet and regular exercise. You have to relax as much as you can and in time you will learn to live with the uncertainties and questions that can't be answered. Frustrating? Yes. But there just isn't a whole lot we can do about it. I see my family doctor every 6 months and my cardio once a year. If something seems off, I get it checked out.

Something to keep in mind - stress tests are notorious for giving false negatives in women. I passed a stress test just days before receiving my first stent for a blockage of 98% in my LAD. I listened to my body when the chest pain didn't go away. I was told I had been a walking time bomb. So, even if your test results are okay, listen to your body and make sure your doctor does too.

Take care -

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Thanks so much. I feel like I am at the beginning of this journey and I still have much to learn and accept. Being here will be a great help.

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Hi and welcome! I know just how you feel, all of us do, the first year is probably the worst, the fear is overwhelming and is almost impossible to switch off. When my cardio asked me what worried me the most I said 'dropping dead' he told me my chances of doing that was statistically the same as anyone out there, he said around 4% rising with age. That was something I could deal with. Given the huge amount of people on the planet who have a heart attack every single day, out of the blue, with no prior warning or symptoms and the very unlucky 50 or so percent who don't make it, I felt I was pretty much in the same boat as every other 50 something out there, but at least I have an edge, taking blood thinners, keeping my blood pressure under control, topping up with fish oil and other supplements and doing all I can to eat well and stay fit, at least I was doing everything I could, and as Dianna said I am forearmed with a new heightened awareness.
Your own mum must be a source of inspiration to you and proof that what happened to you is not the beginning of the end, you also have every chance of still being around when you're 90!
Do what I do and look around at all the people out there, they could be 'walking time-bombs' although ignorance is bliss knowledge is power. I still have times when I dwell on the possibility of missing my grand-kids growing up, life is so fragile I could be here one minute and gone the next, I try to snap out of it because that applies to every living human being, not just to me because I had a heart attack.
I also grew some collateral's and avoided a second stent, well done Lidia's ticker for being so efficient!
Amazingly, blockages can lessen, as we've all heard from some of the ladies here, so try hard to concentrate on the bright side, really, it's all any one of us can do, think positive avoid stress enjoy each and every day. I know that's much easier said then done but as time goes by it does get better, I promise! ;-)
Lidia xx

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My cardio told me plaque build up can vary on an individual basis. I went from having an unnoticeable build-up (he called it a low mound) to a 90-95% build-up (severe mountain) in 4 weeks. He said he'd seen a lady in her 40's with clear arteries in January to a 99% block in october. With others it takes years. Listen to your body and if you get chest or arm discomfort, shortness of breath etc get it checked out. Better to have a heart cath and stent before a heart attack which will damage muscle. Btw the junction where you had your blockage is apparently a classic area for ladies, mine was there too!

Easier said than done but try not to worry too much about future events- they may not happen or if they do you'll know the signs and get treatment. There are many of us who have been through what you're going through (and share your frustration!) and this is a great group for info and support.

Take care
jay x

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Hello and welcome! You have come to the right place.

After my heart attack, I too wondered how I could have a 99% blockage in my LAD when just TWO WEEKS earlier I had been sent home from the E.R with "normal" EKG, blood tests and treadmill stress test results. One of the reasons that I knew I wasn't having a heart attack during my heart attack (in spite of textbook heart attack symptoms) was because I had mistakenly thought of heart attack as being like sudden cardiac arrest. I, however, was conscious, walking, talking - so when the E.R. doc told me I just had acid reflux, I believed him!

Here's my very basic non-expert understanding now of how that could happen in just two weeks: damaged unstable endothelial cells lining our coronary artery can erode or rupture (and that damage is 20-30 years in the making as Dianna says, so years of your high blood pressure could easily have done that).

This rupture then releases the soft or 'vulnerable' plaque (the lipid core or fatty streaks) within the artery wall, exploding into the artery bloodstream, which can then cause a blood clot (thrombus) to form around it (much like the platelets and white blood cells do when you cut your finger and need a scab to form).

At Mayo Clinic, cardiologists told us that in the 'olden days' (in medicine, that's like --- last week!) they used to believe in what they called the 'plumber's pipe' theory of heart disease, that atherosclerosis or 'hardening of the arteries' builds up like the inside of an old sink pipe, all hard crud, until the pipe gets fully clogged and *BANG!* - heart attack!

But for women especially, it's this soft vulnerable plaque that is our enemy - NOT hard plaque.

Here's a cool animation of different kinds of plaque rupture (if you can get past the annoying techno-pop soundtrack!):

The good news: the 'minimal mitral valve prolapse' your doctor mentions is common - if we live long enough, we'll all have this.

And aren't collateral arteries AMAZING?!??! My cardiologist told me that my 19 years of distance running likely built up my collaterals over time and those are what saved my life despite a fully occluded artery!


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I too had a negative stress test, and ended up with a stent a month later. I have had 3 caths now in less than 2 years for chronic angina, and this last one showed 4 arteries now partially blocked with plaque, that wasn't there a year ago.

So, it really is hard to predict exactly.

Ditto to all the other's advice- always listen to your body, and don't stop until you get the answers you are satisfied with. Do the best you can to control your lifestyle risk factors- diet, exercise etc.

Finding peace and acceptance to your heart disease is an ongoing process, one that you will struggle with probably forever, but manageable. I am just 18 months out of my new diagnosis and stent, still working on that process. But every day I do find myself getting "closer" to peace and acceptance with my illness.

Hang in there!! Good luck in your journey.

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