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Preventing Coronary Heart Disease

This information provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. The information is NOT a substitute for you visiting your doctor. However, as Medical Science is constantly changing and human error is always possible, the authors, editors, and publisher of this information do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of this information nor are they responsible for omissions or errors as a result of using this information.

Reducing Heart Disease Risk

Heart Disease & Stroke

Stroke: Deprivation of the blood supply to the brain due to blockage of a blood vessel. Results in unconsciousness, paralysis or other neurologic symptoms.

Cholesterol: A fat-like substance that, if present in the blood in large amounts, is associated with the development of heart disease.

Arteriosclerosis: Commonly called "hardening of the arteries." An abnormal thickening and loss of elasticity of the wall of the arteries.

Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure.
Heart Failure: Inability of the heart to adequately pump blood.

What is vascular disease?
Vascular disease is a general term for a group of problems that affect your blood vessels, such as those that circulate blood through your heart and brain. People who have vascular disease may have health problems including coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle. Coronary artery disease (also called CAD) is caused by a thickening of the inside walls of the coronary arteries. This thickening is called atherosclerosis (say “ath-uh-roe-skluh-roe-suhs”). A fatty substance called plaque can build up inside the thickened walls of the arteries, blocking or slowing the flow of blood. If your heart doesn't get enough blood to work properly, you may have angina or a heart attack. Angina (say "ann-jeye-na") is a squeezing pain or pressing feeling in your chest.

What is a heart attack?
A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) 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 to be caused by a blood clot that forms where an atherosclerotic (say “ath-uh-roe-skluh-rot-ik”). plaque has cracked or ruptured.

What is a stroke?
A stroke is caused by a blockage in an artery that carries blood to the brain. When 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 be informed about 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 key to reducing your risk:

Don't smoke. If you smoke, your doctor can help you make a plan to stop and give you advice on how to avoid starting again. If you don't smoke, don't start!

Exercise. Before you start, talk to your doctor 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. Keep fat calories to 30% or less of the total calories you take in during a day. Your doctor can help you create a diet plan that is right for you.

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 after about 6 months to 1 year, your doctor 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 doctor may prescribe medicine to lower your blood pressure. Be sure to take it just as your doctor tells you to.

Remember that even if your doctor prescribes medicines to reduce your risk of health problems, it's still very important for you to stick with the lifestyle changes that help control vascular disease.
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Last modified October 2015