Hardened Arteries: It's About More Than Heart Disease
Other conditions raise your risk for hardened arteries, also called atherosclerosis.
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."
Smoking. Smoking is linked to progression of atherosclerosis. It
harms the inner lining of blood vessels, increases risk of injury to the inner
lining of arteries, raises LDL cholesterol, and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol.
"If you look at patients under 50 with heart attacks, almost all of them
are smokers," Tsimikas says. "Smoking can cause
heart disease by damaging your blood vessels and causing more plaque and
blood clots to form inside blood vessels." The good news: risk of heart
disease decreases quickly after a smoker gives up cigarettes, Tsimikas
Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and diabetes under control also
results in big payoffs, Tsimikas says, even if your atherosclerosis has already
led to heart disease. "If you control the risk factors more aggressively,
you're more likely to do better in terms of preventing a new heart attack or
not needing a bypass or other procedure."
Perkins-Cooper's own doctor calls her a poster child for good health. After
that shocking diabetes
diagnosis, she dropped 32 pounds -- no more fried Southern food and regular
dessert, she says. She lowered her cholesterol from a high of 225. She began
exercising, too. "I'm a very stubborn person," she says. "When I
put my mind to it, I can get things done. I just revamped my whole