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Heart Disease Health Center

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Overcoming Cardiovascular Disease

If you've been diagnosed with stroke, heart attack, angina or PAD, you may be in shock. But the right medical care can prevent future problems.

A Systemic Disease, Affecting the Entire Body continued...

Understand that arteriosclerosis and blood clots aren't the only causes of these conditions. For instance, about 17% of strokes are caused by ruptured instead of blocked arteries. Some heart attacks result from arterial spasms. But in most people who have had PAD, angina, stroke, or a heart attack, arteriosclerosis and blood clots are the underlying problem.

"You have to know that this is a systemic disease," says Ross. "It affects your whole body. While one plaque may have caused your heart attack or stroke, that isn't the only plaque you have." So besides treating the plaque that caused your immediate problem, you also have to focus on stopping any other plaques from getting worse.

Treatments for Cardiovascular Disease

The good news is that there are many ways to stop cardiovascular disease from worsening. In some cases, you may be able to reverse the damage.

"We really encourage people to see that there are lots of good options for treatment," says Ross. "The key is to choose the one that's best for the individual."

  • Procedures and Surgery. There are many approaches available. To open up an artery that has become clogged with plaque, your doctor might perform an angioplasty. This procedure guides a tiny balloon into the artery and inflates it to open up space at the site of the blockage. Afterward, your doctor might insert a stent -- a small, mesh cylinder -- into the artery to keep it open. In some cases, your doctor may also give a dose of a medicine directly into the artery to break up the blockage. More invasive procedures are sometimes necessary, like bypass surgery.
  • Medication. Depending on your case, you might need a number of medications.
    • Antiplatelet drugs (including aspirin) can help reduce clotting in the blood.
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and vasodilators relax your blood vessels. This makes it easier for your heart to pump blood and lowers your blood pressure.
    • Blood thinners also help prevent blood clotting.
    • Beta-blockers lower blood pressure and lower the heart rate.
    • Calcium channel blockers relax blood vessels and ease the workload on the heart.
    • Diuretics help lower your blood pressure by getting rid of excess sodium and water.
    • Statins and other medicines can help control your cholesterol levels.

But of course, medicine won't help if you don't remember to take it. So make sure your health care provider tells you exactly when and how to use your medicine. If you need reminders, leave notes around the house or use timers or alarms. Also, invest a few bucks in a plastic pillbox that has slots for each day of the week.

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