In this newsletter, I am focusing on vascular disease and I am specifically concentrating on arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis — the development of “hardening of the arteries” or “plaque” that forms in our arteries leading to bad things like a heart attack and stroke.
Atherosclerosis can affect arteries anywhere in your body. Mild atherosclerosis usually doesn’t have any symptoms. You usually won’t have atherosclerosis symptoms until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can’t supply enough blood to your organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot completely blocks blood flow, or even breaks apart and can trigger a heart attack or stroke.
Symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. For example:
- If you have atherosclerosis in your heart arteries, you may have symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure (angina).
- If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your brain, you may have signs and symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or drooping muscles in your face. These are the signs and symptoms of a stroke.
- If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries in your arms and legs, you may have signs or symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication) or decreased blood pressure in an affected limb.
- If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your kidneys, you develop high blood pressure or kidney failure.
- Aneurysms. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery.
Causes and risk factors for atherosclerosis:
Hardening of the arteries and plaque develop over a long period of time. Besides aging, factors that may increase your risk of atherosclerosis include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Inflammation (High levels of C-reactive protein in your blood)
- Sleep apnea
- Smoking and other tobacco use
- A family history of early heart disease
- Lack of exercise
- An unhealthy diet
Determining your risk of a heart attack or stroke can be done; you can punch in your numbers into this calculator.
If your risk is calculated at over 10%, it may help you make the decision to be more aggressive in the control of your risk factors.
Healthy lifestyle and behavioral changes can help prevent atherosclerosis, help treat atherosclerosis and decrease your risk for an event (i.e. – heart attack or stroke). These include:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Checking and maintaining a healthy blood pressure
- Checking and maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels
Just remember to make changes one step at a time, and keep in mind what lifestyle changes are manageable for you in the long run.
If you are interested in calculating your cardiovascular risk, discussing your cardiovascular health and want help in mitigating your risk factors then please reach out to Dr. Guy and schedule a visit at (707) 938-1255.
Be healthy and happy new year!