Atherosclerosis, How To Keep A Silent Killer At Bay
Unfortunately, a healthy lifestyle by itself often does not suffice to achieve optimum protection from atherosclerosis and its complications. Therefore, we are lucky to have a number of treatments today that can reduce atherosclerotic risk. Depending on levels of cholesterol and the kinds of cholesterol carriers in our blood, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and other risk factors, doctors can today tailor a regimen of risk-modifying medications that can go a long way toward reducing an individual's atherosclerotic risk. Added to a foundation of lifestyle change, medications both over the counter and prescription have been proven effective in reducing risk of atherosclerosis. In individuals with a certain level of risk for atherosclerotic events, a baby aspirin a day can markedly lower the risk of cardiovascular events. For those in whom a healthy lifestyle alone can't control blood pressure or the blood fats, doctors can prescribe medications that address specific risk factors. (Curiously, antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins E and C and beta-carotene, do not seem to lower atherosclerotic risk.)
Thus, by a combination of healthy living and, when required, the addition of specific drug therapies, we can successfully manage atherosclerotic risk in many individuals. In the case of Beth Bradley, featured in THE MYSTERIOUS HUMAN HEART's "Endlessly Beating" episode, her family history of early atherosclerotic disease indicated that she herself had a heightened cardiovascular risk, despite being a relatively young woman. Individuals in this situation should have particular vigilance about adhering to a healthy lifestyle and should work with their doctors to assess their cardiovascular risk and manage it intensely.
In the case of Bob Cunningham, also featured in THE MYSTERIOUS HUMAN HEART's "Endlessly Beating" episode, he suffered multiple heart attacks without even knowing it, a not uncommon scenario. These heart attacks left him with a severely injured heart that necessitated the dramatic, costly, and challenging heart transplantation that ultimately saved his life and returned him to a high degree of function. If Bob had managed his risk factors optimally in the decades preceding his development of a severely weakened heart muscle, the need for transplantation might have been delayed or avoided altogether.
The best protection against atherosclerotic risk is prevention. The cornerstone of prevention is a healthy lifestyle. Working with your healthcare provider to assess your cardiovascular risk and manage it according to our current guidelines is the best way to lower your risk of suffering from this growing epidemic of atherosclerosis.