Whitney Houston and Atherosclerosis
The LA Coroner's office released a summary of Whitney Houston's autopsy report yesterday. You can read it here.
She did not die from a lethal combination of cocaine and xanax as many people assumed at the time. While there were traces of Xanax, Flexeril (a muscle relaxer) and Benadryl (an antihistamine) and marijuana in her system, they did not contribute to her death. Alcohol was not a factor.
She drowned following a cardiac event in the bathtub. The official cause of death was:
2. Effects of Atheroschlerotic Heart Disease and Cocaine Use
Translation: Her chronic use of cocaine over the years exacerbated the hardening of her arteries and heart disease. The hardening of the arteries caused her to have a cardiac event in the tub and she slipped underwater and drowned. [More...]
No cocaine was found in the room and reports that someone removed it are just gossip right now. Cocaine and metablolites can stay in your system for days, although the coroner says toxicology reports indicate she ingested some just before getting into the tub.
The exact cause of arteroschlerosis is unknown. What is known is that there are risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop it.
The cause of atherosclerosis isn't known. However, certain traits, conditions, or habits may raise your risk for the disease. These conditions are known as risk factors.
You can control some risk factors, such as lack of physical activity, smoking, and an unhealthy diet. Others you can't control, such as age and a family history of heart disease.
Some people who have atherosclerosis have no signs or symptoms. They may not be diagnosed until after a heart attack or stroke....he main treatment for atherosclerosis is lifestyle changes.
In some people this disease progresses rapidly in their third decade. In others it doesn't become threatening until they're in their 50s or 60s.
Exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it isn't known, but some theories have been proposed. Many scientists think atherosclerosis starts because the innermost layer of the artery becomes damaged. This layer is called the endothelium. Three possible causes of damage to the arterial wall are:
- Elevated levels of cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke greatly aggravates and speeds up the growth of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the aorta and the arteries of the legs.
Whitney Houston was a long-time smoker. So cocaine was just another contributing factor to the hardening of her arteries, and it was the hardening of her arteries that triggered a cardiac event. Her arteries were 60% blocked according to the coroner's press statement.
Atherosclerosis is "a type of arteriosclerosis that affects only the inner lining of an artery. It is characterized by plaque deposits that block the flow of blood."
Atheroschlerosis is a leading cause of death. Many people who were not cocaine users or current smokers die from heart attacks caused by arteroschlerosis -- Tim Russert, for example. It is progressive and develops over time.
The takeaway from Whitney Houston's death should not be that she used cocaine before she died. It should be the educational opportunity for everyone to learn more about the risk factors for developing heart disease and ways to minimize them.
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