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The Mummies' Curse: Heart Disease
Date:11/17/2009

Finding suggests atherosclerosis is as old as the pyramids, and not an ill of the modern world

TUESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Hardening of the arteries may have more of a family history -- the human family tree -- than was once thought.

Modern-day imaging techniques have unearthed hardening of the arteries -- or atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks and stroke -- in mummies up to 3,500 years old.

Experts have long believed that atherosclerosis is a scourge of modern society, caused by meals snatched at fast-food restaurants and eaten in front of high-definition TVs.

"Perhaps atherosclerosis has been around a lot longer than we think. It might have been a malady affecting man long-term," said Dr. Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association. "It doesn't necessarily change anything we know or do now, but perhaps some of the accoutrements of civilization are not only unhealthy now, they were also unhealthy then."

The unusual findings were presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., and published simultaneously in the Nov. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We can't say that atherosclerosis was the cause of death, but the simple fact that they had it was a great surprise to us," said study co-author Dr. Samuel Wann, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Wisconsin Heart Hospital in Wauwatosa. "We thought it was a disease of McDonald's. We had this vision of people 3,000 and 4,000 years ago being more pure, free-living and not subject to the evils of modern civilization, but this has been going on for a long time."

The research started when two physicians, one American and one Egyptian, saw a sign on a mummy at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, saying that the pharaoh on display had atherosclerosis.

"How did they know?" the doctors wondered. Before
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