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Protecting Your Heart by Reducing Plaque

January 28, 2021

Mention the word “plaque,” and your heart probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind. But as we age, the accumulation of plaque, or fatty deposits, in the arteries can be a silent threat to cardiovascular health. As plaque builds up, blood vessels get inflamed and then arteries thicken and narrow. This process, which can result in a lack of blood flow to the heart and cause chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue, is known as atherosclerosis.

Studies show about 47 percent of Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. That’s why preventing plaque buildup is critical to protect heart health. Reducing plaque prevents cardiovascular illnesses such as coronary artery atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke. Lifestyle changes may significantly help. 

Why Is Plaque Dangerous? 

Because these changes in the blood vessels may happen slowly, atherosclerosis can quietly creep up over time. You might not know you have the condition until you have a heart attack, stroke or blockage in your arms or legs. Untreated, this can cause congestive heart failure, incapacitating neurologic deficits or physical and emotional limitations that significantly impair your life. 

Other serious complications include: 

  • Angina — reduced blood flow to the heart muscle leading to chest pain

  • Coronary heart disease — plaque in arteries surrounding the heart

  • Carotid artery disease — plaque in neck arteries interfering with the brain’s blood supply

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Peripheral artery disease, or PAD — plaque in arteries of the extremities

Buildup Has Many Culprits

Many factors can cause inflammation in the blood vessels — exactly which ones cause the condition may vary for individual patients. But it’s widely believed that certain culprits cause the artery’s inner lining to get damaged, and that’s when the plague buildup begins. 

Possible causes: 

  • High blood pressure

  • Poor diet with high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides 

  • Some autoimmune diseases

  • Diabetes

  • Stress

  • Cigarette smoking or vaping

One of the biggest culprits is smoking, because it triggers fatty deposits to form and speeds up plaque growth, according to the American Heart Association. Inhaling tobacco accelerates atherosclerosis in the aorta as well as coronary and leg arteries, and heightens the risk for developing PAD. 

Tips To Protect Your Heart

  • Maintain a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. 

  • Eat less meat, and limit fried and processed food.

  • Stop smoking or vaping.

  • Exercise.

  • Manage stress by using techniques such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing.

  • Schedule routine checkups with your primary care physician.

  • Get your blood pressure and diabetes under control. 

It’s never too late to take ownership of your health. Set goals and do weekly checks to see how well you are taking care of yourself, physically and mentally. Ask yourself how you can take small, achievable steps to reach your health goals.

 

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