In the ancient tomb paintings of the Nile Valley, Egypt's nobility often appears lithe, beautiful, and, above all, healthy. But researchers have long doubted that life at the top of the social pyramid in ancient Egypt was quite so rosy. At least as early as 1500 B.C.E., Egyptian physicians observed symptoms of angina, heart attacks, and congestive heart failure in patients and recorded them in medical papyri. Yet they gave little indication of how often they saw such cases.
Now a team led by cardiologists Adel Allam of the Al Azhar Medical School in Cairo and Gregory Thomas of the University of California, Irvine, has conducted the broadest and most detailed study yet of atherosclerosis—a hardening of the arteries that causes both strokes and heart attacks—among ancient Egypt's upper classes by building on earlier work and performing CT scans on 52 of their mummies. In a study presented at the scientific session of the American College of Cardiology today in New Orleans, the team found that 44 of the mummies still possessed identifiable cardiovascular tissue, and of these 45% exhibited definite or probable hardening of the arteries.
"We were a bit surprised by how just how much atherosclerosis we found on ancient Egyptians who were young," says team member James Sutherland, a radiologist at the South Coast Radiological Medical Group in Laguna Hills, California. "The average age of death was around 40."
Bloomberg (Pat Wechsler)
Clogged arteries seemed to run in the family of Ahmose-Henutempet, a queen during Egypt’s 17th dynasty almost 3,600 years ago, according to research based on body scans of mummies.
Both the queen, who died in her 40s, and her sister, the princess Ahmose-Meyret-Anon, showed signs of atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty substances in heart vessels that lead to heart attacks and stroke, according to a report today at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.
The study scanned 44 mummies from the royal family, their ministers and staff that still had remnants of arteries. It found 20 with a disease that doctors now mostly tie to the stresses and bad habits of modern life, said Randall Thompson, a cardiologist and study author.
LA Times (Thomas H. Maugh II)
CT scans of Egyptian mummies show that many of them suffered from hardening of their arteries, researchers said Sunday. Cardiologists have generally believed that atherosclerosis is a byproduct of the modern lifestyle, caused by eating foods that are too high in fats, lack of exercise and smoking. The new findings indicate that "we may understand atherosclerosis less well than we think," Dr. Gregory S. Thomas, a cardiologist at UC Irvine, told a New Orleans meeting of the American College of Cardiology. It may be that humans "are predisposed to atherosclerosis," he said, "that it is part of our genetic makeup."
Thomas and his colleagues reported 18 months ago on a study of 16 mummies, in which they found hardening of the arteries in nine. Eight of those nine were older than 45 when they died. The oldest of the atherosclerotic mummies belonged to a woman known as Lady Rai, who had been a nursemaid to Queen Ahmose Nefertiti.
Kansas City Star (Alan Bavley)
She didn’t smoke. Never ate a double bacon cheeseburger. Never sacked out on the couch watching cable. Yet by the time she reached her early 40s, she was a candidate for a heart attack.
That was nearly 3,600 years ago.
Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, of Egypt’s 17th Dynasty, had the world’s oldest known case of coronary heart disease, researchers say.
Atherosclerosis — commonly called hardening of the arteries — was surprisingly widespread in ancient times, at least among the Egyptian mummies examined by an international team of scientists and heart specialists, including one from St. Luke’s Hospital.