Blood vessel (vascular) disease has many risk factors. The three risk factors that are not controllable are:
Age: Stroke risk doubles for each decade after age 55. Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) risk increases after age 50.
Gender: Men are more likely to experience heart attack and stroke than pre-menopausal women.
Heredity: Blacks and Hispanics are at greater risk, as well as people with a family history of heart disease, stroke and PVD. Treating, reducing or eliminating risk factors that can be controlled decrease your chance of experiencing heart attack, stroke or PVD.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the leading risk factors for heart attack, stroke and PVD. High blood pressure places additional stress on artery walls and can damage the lining of these walls, causing them to form a blockage or blood clot. Remember, if your doctor has prescribed a blood pressure medication, don’t stop taking it. Not taking your medication elevates your blood pressure and significantly increases your risk. Weight control, reducing salt intake, regular exercise and taking prescribed medication will help you control your blood pressure.
Having diabetes puts you at increased risk for vascular disease. Diabetes can be controlled by following a recommended diet, weight control, monitoring blood sugars, exercise and taking medications as prescribed.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance essential to all of the cells in your body. Normally, your liver produces all the cholesterol you require. Eating foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats will increase blood vessel damage. Being overweight strains the entire circulatory system and causes higher cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes, which increase risk for vascular disease. Eating a well-balanced diet low in cholesterol, saturated fats and salt will help you control your weight and maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Medications may also be prescribed to reduce cholesterol when dietary control is not adequate.
The key to reducing stress is learning how to manage your response to stressful situations. Chronic stress is known to increase heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat. This heart rhythm can cause blood clots to form, which may travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin are two medications commonly prescribed to help prevent blood clots when people have atrial fibrillation. Patients who are taking Warfarin should be carefully monitored by a doctor.
In addition to harming the lungs and causing cancer, smoking also injures blood vessel walls, speeds up hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), increases the workload on your heart and elevates blood pressure. The good news is that if you stop smoking today, your risk factor for vascular disease greatly decreases within two years.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol and binge drinking have been associated with an increased risk for vascular disease.
To help control your risk factors to prevent heart attack, stroke and PVD, contact your doctor to develop a plan to meet your needs.
For more information, call the ASK-A-NURSE Resource Center at 913-676-7777.