Medicine: Beating Back a Ruthless Killer

Blocked arteries can be unclogged without surgery, according to studies by leading researchers, and that could transform the way doctors treat heart disease

They begin to form when he is still an adolescent, smooth fatty streaks on the interior wall of a major coronary artery -- the ominous consequence of a typically American high-cholesterol, high-fat diet. By his 20s, the streaks have formed plaques, growths with a fatty center covered by a fibrous cap of smooth muscle cells. By his 40s, the plaque, its buildup accelerated by smoking and high blood pressure, has protruded well into the bloodstream, closing 65% of the arterial passage. The blood swirls and eddies dangerously as it forces its way past the swelling obstructions.

He now has a well-developed...

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