Atherosclerotic heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Also called atherosclerosis, this severe condition occurs when a waxy substance called plaque builds up and blocks the arteries. The bloodstream then develops blood clots or limits blood supply to vital organs. As a result, people with atherosclerotic heart disease are at risk of heart attacks, strokes, or angina. Heart disease is irreversible but identifying the condition and taking action helps with a healthy life.
A heart-healthy diet
Making consistent lifestyle changes is the best way to manage early signs of heart disease. A doctor will first assess weight, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and blood pressure. These measures often reveal an underlying cause of atherosclerosis. The next step is to establish a healthy diet. Start with a diet that is low in trans fats and sugars but high in fiber. Plant-based diets, for instance, have shown as much as a 50% improvement in heart health for patients with heart disease. Working with a dietician can help with consistent food choices, making these changes easier.
All about exercise
There is a close connection between lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyles, and heart disease. The body is not consistently using the excess calories consumed daily. As a result, more sugars and fats are in the bloodstream, opening the door for heart disease. Anyone with atherosclerotic heart disease must start an exercise program recommended by the doctor. A brisk daily walk, swimming, or biking can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. There are also weight loss benefits and a reduction in the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Eliminating dangerous habits
Diet and exercise take hard work, but poor choices can quickly derail these healthy habits. Science has repeatedly shown that smoking, reduced sleep, drug use, and alcohol contribute to heart disease. These activities add toxins to the body, increasing oxidative stress and reducing blood flow. Smoking and alcohol also accompany unhealthy habits like poor diet, lack of sleep, and stress. A major step is working with a physician or counselor to remove these dangerous, life-threatening habits.
Is medication the answer?
At more advanced stages of heart disease, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Doctors recommend improving specific markers faster through medication. Common heart disease drugs include blood thinners, anticoagulants, or antiplatelet medicines. These drugs help manage blood flow and reduce the chances of blood clots. Additional medication helps treat associated conditions like cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and diabetes.
Surgery as a last resort
Doctors may need to perform surgery if an artery is compromised. Surgery often is recommended when a patient has had a severe episode, like a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot. The goal of surgery is to remove plaque, widen an affected artery, or improve blood flow. Surgical procedures include coronary angioplasty, stenting, or bypass surgery. A cardiologist will explain the risks, benefits, and recovery steps for all surgical procedures.
Your future with atherosclerosis
Health and lifestyle changes can significantly improve the outcomes of heart disease. A doctor will prescribe medication or perform surgery to improve a patient’s health if necessary. Everyone must take atherosclerosis seriously. Look for signs and perform annual wellness checkups to get ahead of the disease.