It is never too early to pay attention to risks associated with heart disease and stroke. High levels of cholesterol, among other factors, increase the body's risk for ischemic vascular disease (IVD). IVD is characterized by plaque buildup in the blood vessels. The buildup results in a condition called atherosclerosis that restricts normal blood flow and can affect any artery of the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis and kidneys. The term "ischemic vascular disease" includes any of the diseases caused by plaque buildup including:
- Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) - refers to atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart
- Carotid Artery Disease (CAD) - refers to plaque buildup in the arteries on either side of the neck leading to the brain.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) - refers to a buildup of plaque in the arteries that carry blood to the head, organs, and limbs
All types of IVD are caused by atherosclerosis, and there are many factors that can trigger plaque buildup in the arteries. These factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High sugar levels due to insulin resistance or diabetes
- High amounts of fats and cholesterol in the blood
Cholesterol on its own is necessary for building new cells throughout the body, insulating nerves and producing hormones. The liver makes this necessary cholesterol, creating it in exactly the quantities that the body needs to remain healthy. When the body inappropriately makes too much cholesterol (often a genetic trait) or excess cholesterol is introduced into the body from overeating cholesterol rich foods, including milk, eggs, and meat, cholesterol begins to stockpile in the blood and builds up in the arteries. This can lead to a narrowing of the arteries, thereby reducing blood flow to vital organs and potentially leading to a heart attack, stroke, or severe peripheral vascular disease, which can make it difficult to walk.
Waiting for signs or symptoms of plaque buildup to occur may be life threatening as IVD typically does not cause symptoms until the artery is severely narrowed or totally blocked. The best prevention of high cholesterol and IVD is to work with a primary care physician to have cholesterol and lipid (fat) levels checked through blood tests. This will allow the physician to detect possible plaque buildup in the arteries before blood flow is impacted.
Treating IVD can be completed with medications that control blood pressure and high cholesterol to prevent blood clots from forming in the diseased blood vessels, or routine surgeries to remove plaque buildup. Other treatment options include smoking cessation, dietary changes, maintaining or achieving a healthy weight and incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine. It may not be easy to manage all these things on your own, but the care team at your primary care physician's office is there to help. And technology can, too! MyChart at GBMC allows you to keep track of your most recent cholesterol and blood pressure levels, view lab results, communicate securely with your physician, make appointments, and request prescription refills, all from the convenience of your mobile phone or computer.
Information on all of GBMC's primary care practices is available at www.MyGBMCDoctor.com.
This webpage is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.