Acute coronary syndromes and heart failure may reflect maladaptations of trauma physiology that was shaped during pre-modern evolution

Patrick Y. Lee, A. Joon Yun, Kimberly A. Bazar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We hypothesize that the pathophysiology of many cardiovascular diseases reflects a maladaptation of the triad of trauma response: adrenergia, inflammation, and coagulation. During biologic evolution, trauma has likely been a prevailing factor in natural selection. Components of the trauma triad act to limit hemorrhage, defend wounds against microorganisms, and initiate reconstruction. Response pathways that enable survival after trauma confer obvious adaptive advantages especially if the individual goes on to reproduce. Modern humans have shaped their own ecologic environment in such a way that the incidence of trauma has waned and previously unseen pathologies have emerged. Manifestations of modern diet, changing lifestyles, and extended lifespan have suddenly created new pathologic challenges to our prehistoric physiologic system. During our evolutionary heritage, endothelial injury and end-organ hypoxia were likely exclusively associated with physical trauma and the responses of the trauma triad were appropriate. Today, endothelial injury is more often precipitated by distinctly modern stressors such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. The once-adaptive trauma response can maladaptively initiate dangerous, self-propelling cycles of adrenergia, inflammation, and coagulation. Acute coronary syndromes perhaps best exemplify this phenomenon. Congestive heart failure, which often ensues, can similarly be seen as a maladaptation of the trauma triad. Whereas end-organ hypoxia was once commonly associated with trauma, now hypoxia is more often attributable to distinctly modern stressors such as pump failure. The fluid conservation and inflammation that results from the trauma triad was clearly adaptive in our prehistoric past, but in congestive heart failure the response is maladaptive, engendering self-propelling exacerbations of pump failure and vascular disease. Our maladaptive trauma response hypothesis portends new diagnostic and therapeutic paradigms for cardiovascular diseases and has ramifications for many other conditions such as stroke, venous thrombosis, vasculitis, aortic disease, arterial disease, pulmonary embolism, and restenosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-867
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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