Atherosclerosis

A disease of the arterial blood vessels, in which the walls of the blood vessels become thickened and hardened by plaques.  The plaques are composed of cholesterol and other lipids, inflammatory cells, and calcium deposits.  The plaques can slow the flow of blood through the arteries, and if the plaques rupture, the blood flow can become completely obstructed.

Risk Factors for Atherosclerosis

  • Smoking
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Family history of atherosclerosis
  • Elevated Cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Age 65 years and older
  • Appears more frequently in men than women
  • Obesity

It is important to try to eliminate the risk factors for atherosclerosis that are under your control.  Avoiding the things that lead to atherosclerosis can slow the progression of the disease.  You should discuss these risk factors with your primary care provider.

Prevention of Atherosclerosis

Smoking Cessation
Nicotine causes the arteries to constrict or narrow, preventing blood from reaching the body’s organs, tissues, and muscles. Smoking decreases the ability of your lungs to deliver oxygen to your blood and can cause the blood to clot more quickly. Smoking also prevents the development of new blood vessels, which is especially important in people wiht blockages in their circulation.

Many people think that smoking one or two cigarettes a day is okay.  They are wrong.  The affects of one cigarette lasts in the body for up to eight hours.  Tobacco in any form is harmful and should be avoided.  This includes pipes, cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.  People with claudication usually notice improvement in their walking once they stop smoking.

Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Uncontrolled hypertension increases the workload of the heart. This causes increased stress to your heart and arteries. Hypertension is often silent, meaning it has no observable symptoms and should therefore be monitored regularly

Cholesterol Monitoring
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that can build up in your artery walls. This restricts blood flow through the arteries. Cholesterol comes from food.

A total cholesterol level less that 200 is considered desirable.  Borderline is 200-239 and High is 240 or greater.

Bad cholesterol (LDL) refers to low-density lipoprotein and has a lot to do with your family history.  Everyone’s bad cholesterol comes from two sources: the cholesterol that is absorbed from food and the cholesterol your body produces naturally, based on heredity.  The average person should try to maintain an LDL below 130 mg/dl.  If you have heart disease or diabetes, your goal should be less than 100 mg/dl.

Good cholesterol (HDL) refers to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol because it helps eliminate the bad cholesterol from the body.  The higher your HDL cholesterol level the more good lipoproteins you have to remove stuck cholesterol from your blood vessels.  Low is less than 40, high is 60 or greater.

Diet
In order to prevent atherosclerosis and hypertension it is important to avoid foods containing high amounts of fat, cholesterol and salt. Choose lean meat, poultry, fish and dry beans as protein sources. Moderate your use of eggs (usually two to three per week, try cooking with less egg yolks and more egg whites) and red meats (portions no larger than the size of a deck of cards). Limit your intake of butter, cream, hydrogenated margarine, shortening, coconut oil and food made from these products (usually no more than two tablespoons of fat per day). There are many new low fat, low salt, cholesterol free items available. Read the labels of prepared food as you cook. Broil, bake or boil rather than fry your foods

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