Ways You Can Prevent Hardened Arteries

smiling doctor holding a red heartYour good health has an enemy — atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is common. And its effects can be very serious. This condition can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and death.  But, you can take steps to protect yourself from this disease.

What is atherosclerosis?

The inside walls of healthy arteries are smooth and clean. This makes it easy to transport the blood your body needs. But arteries can become clogged. Fatty substances like cholesterol can stick to artery walls. These deposits are called plaque. Plaque can eventually slow or block the flow of blood. This blockage is atherosclerosis. It can affect any artery in your body. When atherosclerosis affects the arteries that supply blood to the heart, it is called coronary artery disease. Two things may occur where a plaque develops. A plaque may break off or a blood clot may form on the plaque’s surface. If either of these situations occur, it may lead to a blockage of an artery and ultimately a heart attack or stroke.

How is cholesterol measured?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that all adults older than 20 have their cholesterol level checked every 5 years. This is done with a blood test. The test should measure total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides. Talk with your healthcare provider about your target cholesterol levels.

Am I at risk?

These factors put you at greater risk for atherosclerosis:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • A family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Diabetes

Having more than one risk factor can increase your risk even more. You can control most of the above risk factors. The following tips can help prevent atherosclerosis and improve your general health. If you have atherosclerosis, you may be able to stop it from getting worse.

Smoking

If you smoke, stop. Scientists have shown smoking damages the artery walls which can lead to atherosclerosis. This makes it easier for plaque to build up. Smoking is even more risky when you have other risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes. If you want help quitting, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she has information on medicines, nicotine replacement products, and programs to make it easier. Also, avoid places where there is cigarette smoke. Research suggests that smoke from others can increase your risk of atherosclerosis.