How to Treat Atherosclerosis


Atherosclerosis is a medical condition that occurs when your arteries become damaged and blocked, often as a result of plaque build-up on the artery walls.[1] You can treat some cases of atherosclerosis with lifestyle changes that make your heart both healthier and stronger. In more severe cases, however, you may need medication and/or surgery to treat your atherosclerosis and the associated symptoms.

Part 1
Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis

Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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While the exact cause of atherosclerosis isn’t always known, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar due to an unhealthy diet all contribute to artery damage and plaque build-up. A Mediterrannean diet is a healthy and balanced way to improve your heart health and treat atherosclerosis.[2] Focus on eating foods that are high in fiber and low in cholesterol, fat, sugar, and sodium, such as lean meats, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.[3] Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish (like salmon), are high in unsaturated fats and can help keep your bad cholesterol levels down.[4]

Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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Try exercising for at least 40 minutes 3 or 4 days per week.[5] Exercising regularly can help lower your blood pressure and burn off body fat, both of which can help your prevent and treat atherosclerosis.[6] Exercise can also help reduce your bad cholesterol levels, which can help reduce the build-up in your arteries and treat your atherosclerosis. Increasing your physical activity may also help you manage the symptoms associated with atherosclerosis, such as leg or chest pain.[7] If you are new to exercising regularly, you may want to start with an easier exercise, such as walking. Walking has been proven to help in the treatment of atherosclerosis, and can help you build up the stamina to try other, more rigorous forms of exercise like running.[8]

Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If you are overweight or have a high body mass index (BMI), a nutritionist can help you figure out how to lose weight in a healthy way.[9] Losing weight can help you reduce or stop the build-up of plaque in your arteries by lowering your cholesterol and improving your overall heart health.[10] If you are at a healthy weight and are dealing with atherosclerosis, a nutritionist can help you manage your weight and focus on making other lifestyle changes, such as healthier eating and regular exercise. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy.[11]

Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If you aren’t getting enough sleep, changing your sleeping habits may help you prevent atherosclerosis, as well as help keep your atherosclerosis from getting worse.[12] Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep also gives your body time to recover and rejuvenate, helping you maintain the healthy habits that can help treat your atherosclerosis.

Making Lifestyle Changes to Treat Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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Smoking not only increases the likelihood that you will suffer from atherosclerosis, it can also make your existing atherosclerosis much worse. Both smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke can lower your good cholesterol, raise your blood pressure, and damage your heart and arteries, all of which contribute to atherosclerosis.[13] While less is known about the impact of cigar and pipe smoke on atherosclerosis than cigarette smoke, all types of smoke contain harmful chemicals that increase your risk for atherosclerosis and other heart-related issues.[14] Avoid Juul and other forms of tobacco vaping, because they have high amounts of nicotine and tobacco per inhale.

Part 2
Taking Medication to Help Atherosclerosis

Taking Medication to Help Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If you are unable to treat your atherosclerosis and lower your bad cholesterol with diet, exercise, and weight management, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol medication.[15] Statins are the most commonly prescribed form of medication for lowering cholesterol. Most statins work by blocking the liver enzyme that promotes the production of cholesterol in your body.[16] How much and how often you should take statins depends on the particular medication, as well as the severity of your condition, so make sure that you talk to your doctor for instructions. Try this Statin Choice online risk calculator with your doctor to figure out your need for cholesterol meds: .

Taking Medication to Help Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If you have atherosclerosis and high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe an ACE inhibitor (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors), calcium channel blocker, or diuretic medication. ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and diuretic medications may help slow the progression of your atherosclerosis by lowering your blood pressure.[17] These medications may also help reduce your risk of having a heart attack as a result of your atherosclerosis. Calcium channel blocks may also be used to help treat angina (or chest pain) as a result of atherosclerosis.

Taking Medication to Help Atherosclerosis on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If your doctor confirms that you have atherosclerosis with imaging or a workup (cardiac catheterization), they might prescribe beta blocker medication. However, typically beta blockers are a 3rd or 4th line medication, meaning your doctor will try other options first. Beta blockers slow your heartbeat to reduce your blood pressure, and can help increase your blood flow by helping your blood vessels open up. [18]Beta blockers can also treat some of the symptoms and potential impacts of atherosclerosis, such as chest pain and heart attacks.

Part 3
Treating Severe Atherosclerosis with Surgery

Treating Severe Atherosclerosis with Surgery on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If your atherosclerosis is severe, your doctor may determine that you need to get a stent surgically inserted into the blocked or partially blocked artery. A stent is a mesh tube that can be left in your artery to help keep the artery open and clear of blockage.[19] When a stent is inserted into your artery, your surgeon will first perform a procedure called a coronary angioplasty to open the blocked artery. The surgeon will then insert the stent to keep your artery open after the surgery is completed.[20] While you may feel some pressure or minor discomfort while you get accustomed to the stent, angioplasty and stent placement surgery is fairly routine and shouldn’t cause any sharp or major pain.[21]

Treating Severe Atherosclerosis with Surgery on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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If your doctor determines that the plaque build-up in your arteries cannot be removed with lifestyle changes or medication, they may recommend that you have an endarterectomy to surgically remove plaque from your arteries.[22] Doctors don’t often recommend edartectomies to patients who aren’t exhibiting symptoms. However, if the artery wall that leads to your brain has a lot of plaque build up (high-grade carotid stenosis), you’re showing symptoms, and you have a life expectancy of over 5 years, your doctor may recommend an endarterectomy.[23] After an endarterectomy procedure, your doctor will likely keep you in the hospital for 48 hours to recover and to monitor your blood pressure and heart rate. If you experience any pain during your recovery, your doctor may administer a painkiller to control any discomfort.[24] After an endarterectomy, if may take a month to recover.[25] Endarterectomies are often done on arteries in the neck. This is called a carotid endarterectomy.[26] An endarterectomy can help prevent strokes by restoring unrestricted blood flow to your brain.[27] Unfortunately, there’s still a risk of stroke after the procedure.[28]

Treating Severe Atherosclerosis with Surgery on How to Treat Atherosclerosis

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In a coronary artery bypass grafting surgery (CABG), the surgeon uses a healthy artery or vein from another part of your body to bypass the blocked artery. The artery or vein redirects the blood to flow around the blocked artery, which improves the blood flow in your body.[29] A CABG may also help relieve chest pain due to atherosclerosis.[30] A CABG could also help prevent you from having a heart attack due to atherosclerosis.[31] During your bypass surgery for atherosclerosis, you will likely be administered general anesthesia. There are several risks involved in anesthesia, so make sure you talk these over with your doctor before your surgery.[32] The recovery time for a bypass surgery to treat atherosclerosis can vary anywhere from several weeks to several months. In most cases, though, patients are able to return to work after about 4 to 6 weeks.[33]