How atherosclerosis affects the heart, brain and limbs

aspire blog - atherosclerosis in seniors

February is Heart Month. Heart disease is a major problem across the U.S. and unfortunately, seniors are at higher risk of dealing with problems. We recently invited Andreas Sakopoulos, MD, medical director and lead of the cardiothoracic and vascular surgery program at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System to present a Community Connections event on atherosclerosis for Aspire Health Plan members and others from the Monterey County community.

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque arteries that can prevent blood from reaching body tissue and organs. This can eventually lead to temporary problems like angina (chest pain), transient ischemic attack (TIA or a mini-stroke), claudication (leg pain) or permanent problems like heart attack, stroke or gangrene.

What are some common risk factors of atherosclerosis?

Risk factors include high blood pressure, abnormal fat content in blood (dyslipidemia), diabetes, smoking and family history of heart disease. A high calorie calorie/high fat diet, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle also play a role in the development of atherosclerosis

Why does atherosclerosis cause problems for seniors?

According to the American Heart Association, “atherosclerosis is a slow, lifelong progression of changes in the blood vessels that may start in childhood and get worse faster as you age.” Young, healthy arteries are wide enough for blood to flow easily, but over time plaque builds up narrowing arteries. Plaque is caused by calcium, cholesterol, fat and fibrous tissue. Narrowing arteries can create blockage and put you at increased risk for heart disease, stroke and other health problems. While atherosclerosis is a condition that can get worse over time, it’s also preventable.

What types of treatments are available for atherosclerosis?

The most rational approach for treating atherosclerosis is prevention including exercise, smoking cessation and a heart healthy diet. Note that lifestyle changes will not remove a buildup of plaque overnight, but they help decrease your chances of heart attack and stroke. There are good treatment options for cardiovascular disease including medications and procedures. Make sure that you talk to  your doctor before starting any potential treatment for possible atherosclerosis.

Please note that any information provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. For any questions specific to your health or for medical advice, please contact your doctor or healthcare provider.

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