Vascular Disease – How to Prevent Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Attack & Stroke
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What is vascular disease?
Vascular disease is a general term for a group of problems that affect your blood vessels, such as those that move blood through your heart and brain. People who have vascular disease may have health problems such as coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.
What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (also called CAD) is caused by a thickening of the inside walls of the coronary arteries, which supply blood and oxygen to the heart. This thickening is called atherosclerosis (pronounced “ath-uh-roe-skluh-roe-suhs”). A fatty substance called plaque builds up inside the thickened walls of the arteries, blocking or slowing the flow of blood causing a condition called ischemia (pronounced “ish-keem-ee-uh”). Ischemia is inadequate blood flow to the body’s tissues. If your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood to work properly, you may have angina or a heart attack. Angina (pronounced “ann-jy-na”) is a squeezing pain or pressing feeling in your chest.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) is when part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies because it isn’t getting enough blood from the coronary arteries. Heart attacks usually result from a blockage in the coronary arteries. This blockage is most likely caused by a blood clot that forms from tears in the plaque inside the artery.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is caused by a blockage in an artery that carries blood to the brain. When the blood flow to a part of your brain is cut off, that part of the brain can become damaged. You may lose the ability to perform activities that are controlled by that part of the brain, such as the ability to speak or to move your arm or leg.
How can I prevent health problems from vascular disease?
It’s important to know your risk factors and your family history. If you have diabetes or if you have a family history of vascular disease, you are more likely to have health problems from vascular disease.
The following lifestyle changes are very important in reducing your risk:
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine products constrict the arteries, decreasing blood flow. If you smoke, your healthcare provider can help you with a plan to quit and give you advice on how to avoid starting again. If you don’t smoke, don’t start!
- If you don’t already exercise regularly, talk to your healthcare provider about the right kind of exercise for you. Try to work up to exercising 4 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. Regular exercise will help to strengthen your cardiovascular system and keep your weight under control. It can also lower your blood pressure and reduce your level of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol that clogs the arteries).
- Eat right. Follow a healthy diet that is low in sodium (salt) and saturated fat. Don’t cook with salt, avoid prepared foods that are high in sodium, and don’t add salt when you’re eating. Limit saturated fat calories to less than 10% of the total calories you take in during a day. Include fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and high fibre foods to your daily meals. Eat more fish and poultry as sources of protein. Your healthcare provider can help you create a diet plan that is right for you.
- Lower your stress level.
- Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men.
Can medicines lower my risk of health problems from vascular disease?
Lowering your LDL cholesterol level can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If you need to improve your cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, exercising and stopping smoking can be very helpful. However, if these lifestyle changes don’t help, your healthcare provider may suggest that you take medicine to lower your LDL cholesterol level.
Treating high blood pressure can also lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to lower your blood pressure. Be sure to take it just as your healthcare provider tells you to.
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether taking aspirin in low doses would help reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack. Aspirin can help prevent your blood from forming clots that can eventually block the arteries. If you have high blood pressure, it should be under control before you start taking aspirin.
Remember that even if your healthcare provider prescribes medicines to reduce your risk of health problems, it’s still extremely important for you to stick with the lifestyle changes that help control vascular disease.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Heart Association
Vascular Disease Foundation