When arteries clog: learn what you can do to prevent, or treat, clogged arteries - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

When arteries clog: learn what you can do to prevent, or treat, clogged arteries

To understand atherosclerosis, think of the arteries that carry blood through your body as the plumbing in your home. If too many foreign substances clog up the pipes, you're going to have problems.

In the case of atherosclerosis, which causes arteries to become hardened and narrowed, the results can be deadly.

"But the good news is that atherosclerosis is a largely preventable disease that can be controlled,” says Regional Heart Center Cardiologist, Richard Gilmore, M.D.

A slow, progressive disease, atherosclerosis typically begins in childhood. In some people, atherosclerosis gets worse as they get older. But it can cause problems for people as young as 30. Atherosclerosis occurs when too much fat and cholesterol build up on the walls of the arteries. The buildup is called plaque. It can be either hard or soft.

Hard plaque causes artery walls to thicken and narrow. Too much of it can eventually cause an artery to close. Soft plaque also narrows artery walls. But it is even more dangerous than hard plaque because it can break off from artery walls and form a blood clot. Clots can block the flow of blood to parts of your body such as the heart, brain, kidneys, arms and legs.

"When an artery closes off, the tissue or organ to which it provides blood flow dies," Dr. Gilmore says. "That can cause heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure or potential loss of an arm or leg."

Some risk factors for atherosclerosis can't be controlled—such as being male or having a family history of heart disease. But you can do something about other risk factors, such as:

  • High blood cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Smoking.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity.
  • Lack of physical activity.

The first thing you can do to avoid atherosclerosis is to know what risk factors you may have. Then you should talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk.

"The first strategy in preventing atherosclerosis is lifestyle change," Dr. Gilmore says. "That means no smoking, maintaining a good body weight, having an appropriate diet and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. If you have other health conditions that may contribute to atherosclerosis, you should take steps to control them."

You must control high blood pressure, identify diabetes and control it and focus on lowering LDL, or the 'bad' cholesterol," Dr. Gimore says. Though prevention is best, there are many ways to treat atherosclerosis once it develops. Your doctor can help you decide on the treatment plan that will work best for you.

Aside from lifestyle changes, the AHA and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that other treatment options for atherosclerosis include:

Medications to slow down or reverse atherosclerosis. Your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your cholesterol or your blood pressure. You may also receive anticoagulants or aspirin to prevent clots from forming in your blood.

Coronary artery bypass surgery. This surgery uses arteries or veins from other parts of your body to improve blood flow to your heart by bypassing damaged arteries.

Angioplasty. During this procedure, a tiny balloon is placed on the tip of a long, thin tube called a catheter. The catheter is threaded into the clogged artery and the balloon is inflated. This widens the artery and improves blood flow to your heart. A wire mesh tube, called a stent, is sometimes left in the artery to keep it open.

Bypass surgery of the leg arteries. Similar to coronary artery bypass surgery, this procedure uses healthy blood vessels to redirect blood around a blocked artery to improve blood flow to your leg.

Atherectomy. In this procedure, special catheters—tubes with lasers or rotating shavers on the end—are used to vaporize or shave plaque from the artery walls. The key, Dr. Gilmore says, is to take steps to prevent atherosclerosis before you reach the stage that you need treatment.

"We don't need to wait for people to have heart attacks to act against atherosclerosis," he says.

For more information about the prevention of heart disease, or to receive a free copy of the Regional Heart Center Heart Attack Risk Assessment, call CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital toll free at 1-888-72B-WELL, extension 358, or log on to www.stpatrickhospital.org.

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