Lots of people worry about atherosclerosis -- or hardening of the arteries
-- as a factor in heart
disease and stroke. But did you know that diabetes, high
cholesterol, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity are
all major risk factors for atherosclerosis?
Take the case of Barbie Perkins-Cooper, 57, a writer from Mount Pleasant,
S.C. When she discovered that she had type 2
diabetes, she also discovered that she was at risk for atherosclerosis.
What's worse: her high cholesterol levels, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle put
her at even greater risk.
On a rainy December day, Stu Bernstein dashed several blocks through
downtown San Francisco in a race to catch the last commuter train home. Shortly
after the train left the station, the project manager broke into a cold sweat.
Then he felt shortness of breath and indigestion-like pain. When pain was
radiating down his left arm, Bernstein realized he was experiencing heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the U.S, according to
the CDC. The latest...
Perkins-Cooper is hardly alone. Many people who are eventually diagnosed
with atherosclerosis have at least one of these other problems. And that's not
all. Once you develop atherosclerosis, each of these conditions can worsen the
damage to your arteries. Here's how:
Diabetes. People with diabetes tend to develop atherosclerosis
earlier and more extensively than those without the disease. In fact, people
with diabetes -- especially women -- are two to six times more likely to get
atherosclerosis. Patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes can also develop the
disease in small blood vessels, such as those in the eyes and kidneys.
Diabetes is a major predictor of how well patients fare with atherosclerosis
and heart disease. "Once you have a heart
attack, for example, you're going to do a lot worse than if you don't have
diabetes," says Sam Tsimikas, MD, professor of clinical medicine and
director of vascular medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
High LDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL, the bad kind of
cholesterol, promote plaque formation in artery linings -- the signature
symptom of atherosclerosis. Too much LDL can worsen atherosclerosis and
increase the chance of heart disease. "It is a major risk factor,"
Tsimikas says. "The higher the LDL, the more likely you are to get a heart
attack. The lower the LDL, the more likely you are not to get one."
pressure. This condition is associated with inflammation and increased
damage to the lining of the vessels because they're under higher pressure,
Tsimikas says. A vessel is like a garden hose, he says. "If it's always
under high pressure, eventually, it's going to get damaged. If there are other
risk factors -- diabetes and high cholesterol circulating in that pipe --
eventually, all of that is going to clog it up."
Obesity. Being obese raises the risk of atherosclerosis in the
arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. Abdominal obesity also makes a
person more likely to develop high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high
cholesterol. Once these various problems come into play, they can further
damage the blood vessels and worsen atherosclerosis. Keeping weight under
control is crucial, Tsimikas says. "If people can commit to eat less and
walk for 20 minutes every day, it will make a big difference."