The Evolution of Heart Disease

Posted by Heart Niagara on


Heart attacks and strokes cost Canadians 20 billion dollars a year. Yet this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the First World War, having heart attacks and strokes was quite rare.

The medical name for a heart attack, coronary thrombosis, was coined in 1912 by a Chicago Physician named James Herrick. Thus, the condition where a piece of the coronary, or heart artery wall, ruptured causing a clot or obstruction in the artery did not even have a specific name before that. Mind you the condition of coronary arteries had been known for hundreds of years. The Ancient Greeks labelled it atherosclerosis: literally hardened porridge.

Another condition ascribed to atherosclerosis was pain in the centre of the chest, often radiating to the jaw and to the arms, and especially on exertion. This was labelled angina pectoris in 1768 by an English Physician called William Heberden. The treatment was to give brandy: alcohol does have a vasodilating effect on arteries. But this condition did not lead to death and appears to have been chronic over many years in those afflicted by it.

But then something in the early twentieth century created a new, unstable disease. Instead of arteries leading to bouts of chest pain on exertion, the new condition resulted in a totally blocked artery requiring the patient to be hospitalized. Now the blockage, or plaque, ruptures and spills its contents, liquid fat, into the arterial stream where it acts like crazy glue and forms a clot. In the 1970s a medication, streptokinase, was developed which was injected in the emergency room to dissolve the clot and restore the circulation.

This new disease of coronary thrombosis had become an epidemic in the 1950s. What happened around the time of the First World War to make old, stable plaque into unstable plaque with a soft centre? Probably the biggest social change was in food manufacture with adulterated grain products and artificial feeding of animals. Also, transportation changed completely. People did not walk they rode. Rode on cars, buses and trains. And, of course, the First World War saw the popularization of the cigarette and a huge escalation of its chemical by-products into the human bloodstream.

Society has proved very reluctant to ban plaque-forming food products. Cigarettes are still on sale. And, regrettably, levels of activity continue to decrease even among children. So, buy yourself a cookbook which was written in 1880, buy yourself a bicycle for transportation, and never let a cigarette get within ten yards of you.


About the Author


Dr. Stafford W. Dobbin was a graduate of Queens University Belfast and founded Heart Niagara in 1977. He established the first Department of Emergency Services in Niagara at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in 1976.  Through Heart Niagara he initiated the teaching of citizen cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and advanced cardiac life support for critical care personnel prior to the establishment of the Regional Paramedic program. 

His initial design of Heart Niagara included a cardiac rehabilitation program for survivors of cardiac events staffed by qualified physicians and nurses for which he was the medical director until 2002. He started the Heart Niagara’s Healthy Heart Schools’ Program in 1985 and served as medical director. His EMS system for coverage of mass participation events was first used at the US Olympic Marathon trials in 1980 and he served on the first executive of the International Marathon Directors Association. 

August 25 2020 Dr. Stafford Worrell Dobbin, much loved and cherished husband to Susan moved on into the loving arms of God, much loved son-in-law to Eileen Kennedy. His dear parents Stafford and Jean passed on before him. Churchyard service at Hillsborough Parish Church to place his ashes with those of his parents in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland at a future time. In memory of Stafford if so desired consider The Niagara Schools Healthy Heart Programme of Heart Niagara which he so believed in.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.


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