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New Ulm Medical Center

The Importance of Managing Vascular Disease

If you have the clogged or narrowed arteries that are typical of heart disease, then lifestyle changes — not to mention working closely with your doctor — are the keys to healing.

Hearing that you have atherosclerosis, or clogged or narrowed arteries, from your doctor can be quite frightening. Atherosclerosis puts you at risk for more serious heart problems like heart attack and stroke.

Fortunately, there is some good news about vascular disease, said Charles Stephens, MD, a family medicine physician at the New Ulm Medical Center: There are a lot of steps that you can take on your own to control the disease and reverse your risks. These include simple changes to your diet, your exercise routine and more.

“Keeping the condition under control slows, stops and even reverses the build-up of this plaque and is the best way we know of preventing heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and peripheral artery disease,” said Stephens.

Having a close, open relationship with your doctor is also critical to your long-term health when facing a diagnosis of vascular disease. “Treatment with medications means working with your health care provider,” said Stephens. “The more you know and trust him or her, the better you can work out how best to treat and monitor your treatments. Jumping around to different doctors increases the chance of having too many medications prescribed and not dealing with possible side effects well.”

For other tips for managing vascular disease, check out the simple strategies outlined below:

Know the Types

Step number one in protecting yourself against vascular disease is to know the diseases involved. Some common, but very serious, cardiovascular diseases include:

  • Coronary artery disease, which causes heart attacks and is the number 1 killer of women
  • Peripheral arterial disease, which affects blood flow to the arms and legs
  • Blood clots, which can cause pain and could be fatal
  • Stroke, in which blood supply to the brain is cut off because of a clot or burst blood vessel

Recognize the Warning Signs

You might have a vascular problem if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain in the left shoulder, jaw, neck or back
  • Leg cramps while walking, exercising or standing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden dizziness, confusion or numbness on one side of the body

Take Steps to Protect Your Health

Of course, the best way to fight potentially deadly vascular diseases is to prevent them in the first place. Here’s how:

  • Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet based on fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, and grains. “Five servings of fruits or vegetables a day is an easy guiding principle,” said Stephens. “Eat foods with a natural variety of color. Stop before you’re full. Remember, greasy, gooey yummies are treats, not staples.”
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. “Humans were meant to walk and move,” said Stephens. “Getting 20 to 30 minutes of some kind of exercise that speeds your heart rate a bit at least five days a week is recommended for everyone. Bike, walk, swim, dance or do whatever is enjoyable to you.”
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Manage any conditions that can raise your health risks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Source: Health Edition September 2011
Reviewed by: Charles Stephens, MD
First Published: 09/09/2011
Last Reviewed: 09/09/2011