Atherosclerosis: Are Your Arteries Healthy?

By Jessica Babare, DO, CardioVascular Solutions Institute   –

Are Your Arteries HealthyYou probably wouldn’t be terribly surprised if I were to tell you that the leading cause of death and disability in this country is heart disease. Actually, chances are, you or someone you love is living with coronary artery disease. You are probably also familiar with some of the modern medical advances that have come about in recent years to help millions cope with the consequences of coronary artery disease such as coronary bypass surgery or coronary stents. What you may not understand, however, is that the modern plague of coronary artery disease is often a co-conspirator, keeping deadly company with numerous other diseases, all related to each other by one simple mechanism: a degeneration of the body’s arteries.

It’s not hard to understand that one of the key components of a healthy body is a healthy supply of blood to organs and tissues. The blood is essential for delivery of oxygen and nutrients to each of the body’s trillions of cells, followed by removal of waste products. That being said, it is clear to see how a healthy body would be very dependent on the vitality of its arterial supply.

Most people would probably be surprised to know that the vast majority of today’s modern diseases all stem from the same cause: atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease process whereby the artery lining becomes diseased, often accumulating plaque which obscure areas where blood is meant to flow freely. There are many different factors leading up to this, but ultimately, the process causes poorly functioning, hardened, and eventually, clogged arteries that can no longer perform their essential role in the body. There are arteries throughout the body where atherosclerosis can occur. Once this disease is in a more advanced stage it can cause severe damage to which ever organ the diseased artery is meant to supply. Everyone knows that if you block blood flow to the heart, a heart attack occurs, but what most people don’t know is that the same process can occur all over the body and that many common diseases are caused by the same, underlying process.

Most people who suffer from a chronic disease, suffer from a disease which either contributes to or is a consequence of arterial disease. Do you know someone suffering from dementia? One of the most common causes of dementia is called vascular dementia. This occurs when tiny blood vessels no longer function properly, leading to numerous tiny, undetected strokes, causing a person to lose their cognitive abilities. Although other causes of stroke exist, the most common type of stroke occurs due to atherosclerosis of the brain’s arteries, including the large arteries in the neck supplying the brain, the carotid arteries.

Do you know of anyone who has kidney failure or is on renal dialysis? Well, you may be surprised to know that the leading cause of kidney disease is from degeneration of the tiny arteries that filter blood within the kidney. The large renal arteries which bring blood into the kidney can also become clogged, preventing blood from reaching the kidney all together. In the same way, damage to the eye’s delicate retinal arteries is one of the most common causes of blindness.

Ever known of someone who had something called peripheral arterial disease? Or have you ever heard of someone who has had to have their legs or toes amputated? In the majority of these cases, the cause of their limb loss was the same disease process that would have caused a heart attack: atherosclerosis. The reality is that many, if not most of all the diseases affecting Americans today stem from complications of vascular disease.

Causes of Atherosclerosis
Although it may be daunting to think that so many serious, life-threatening conditions are caused by the same process, arterial disease, the good news is that the prevention and management of this wide spectrum of diseases is also, at their basis, the same.

1. Smoking
Most people are aware of the dangers of smoking as it relates to lung diseases and cancer, but what is less known is that smoking has strong damaging effects on the body’s arteries. The toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke cause injury to the delicate lining of arteries, raise blood pressure, and accelerate the formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Cigarette smoking has been shown to significantly increase a person’s risk for all manner of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack, stroke, aortic aneurysm, and peripheral arterial disease.

2. Hypertension
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is an exceptionally common problem within Western society. Caused, by a complex interaction of the body’s hormones, breakdown in the health of the body’s arteries, increased salt intake, high stress lifestyle, and numerous other factors not quite understood by modern medical science, hypertension is a disease that is strongly linked to cardiovascular diseases. Ironically, hypertension is often one of the causes of arterial disease, but, is also made worse by the arterial disease process that it brings about.

3. Diabetes
Unfortunately, now one of the most common chronic diseases affecting Americans, diabetes is a serious risk factor for developing atherosclerosis. Due to the nature of their disease, diabetics, have difficulty with cholesterol and other lipid processing within their bodies. Also associated with diabetes are increased inflammatory changes and hormonal irregularities which contribute to narrowing and atherosclerotic degeneration of the body’s arteries. Due to this, most diabetics will die from cardiovascular complications caused by their diabetes. As it turns out, diabetics are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to developing cardiovascular diseases such as renal failure, blindness, heart attacks, strokes, and limb loss.

4. Cholesterol
Although not the only factor involved in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque, we know that elevated levels of blood cholesterol and other lipids is a major contributor. Plaque often forms as a result of deposition of fatty deposits in the body’s arterial lining, causing inflammation and scarring to occur, eventually leading to arterial narrowing and cardiovascular diseases.

5. Stress
Often an overlooked contributor to disease in modern society, stress plays a key role in the development and advancement of cardiovascular diseases. Stress hormones cause numerous changes to occur within the body, including elevation of blood pressure, hormonal changes and increased inflammation, all leading to more aggressive progression of atherosclerosis. Increased stress can lead to difficulty controlling blood sugars for diabetic patients. It can also lead to insomnia, anxiety states, and depression, all factors which have been shown to increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

6. Diet
The standard American diet, consisting mostly of meat, dairy, and processed carbohydrates is widely known to be a large contributor to many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as hypertension and diabetes. The standard American diet provides many of the building blocks for atherosclerosis. It is a pro-inflammatory diet, providing the body with an over-abundance of calories, cholesterol, and predisposing Americans to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension as a precursor to the more serious cardiovascular complications that will follow.

Managing and Preventing Cardiovascular Diseases – Now that you’ve been brought up to speed about the pervasiveness and risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases, you may be wondering what you can do to reduce your risk and prevent many of these diseases from occurring to you or someone you love. Here are a few recommendations that you may find helpful. First of all, seek guidance from a trained health professional who can discuss with you your risks for cardiovascular disease and screen you for other contributing conditions such as hypertension, elevated cholesterol, or diabetes. If you do have any of these conditions, work closely with your physician to strictly manage your blood pressure and blood levels of cholesterol and glucose. The better you can control these diseases, the better your chances will be that your arteries can stay healthy.

If you are a smoker, make a plan to quit.
It won’t be easy, but there is nothing more empowering you could do for your cardiovascular health! Ask your doctor for recommendations on quitting, find a buddy to support you along the process, and set a quit date on which you will begin your new non-smoking life.

Do your best to make healthful choices at meal time.
Make sure that your priority will be to fill your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. Minimize and, if possible, eliminate processed and fried foods from your diet. Limit sweets, meat, and dairy, all foods that are high-calorie, low-nutrient, and place undue stress on the body. Take time to enjoy life, go for walks on the beach, read a good book, take time to spend time with your family and friends, all things that will help keep your stress under control, and lead to a higher quality of life. Cardiovascular diseases all respond to positive efforts to modify your lifestyle and control your risk factors.

For those whose cardiovascular disease process is well underway, having suffered heart attacks, severe blockages in the arteries of the legs, kidneys, or carotid arteries, many procedures and medical interventions exist to help open blocked arteries and support a body after having undergone a serious trauma like a heart attack. The application of these procedures and medications lie within the expertise of a cardiovascular specialist, called an Interventional Cardiologist, a specially trained doctor who specializes in the treatment of heart diseases as well as vascular diseases manifested throughout the body. Often, these treatments provide significant relief to the suffering that these diseases cause.

Dr. Jessica Babare was raised in a small town and after her mother’s heart attack Jessica realized she wanted a chance to truly change the world. In 1997, at age 17, Jessica entered Elmhurst College in Chicago. After graduating, she attended Nova Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale.
Jessica excelled at NSU-COM and completed her medical school rotations, internal medicine residency, and fellowships in both cardiology and interventional cardiology at Suncoast Hospital and Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida. She holds board certifications in Internal Medicine, General Cardiology, Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and is board eligible in Interventional Cardiology.

Dr. Babare believes the ability to adequately diagnose and treat patients with cardiovascular diseases begins with personal wellness. She is known by her peers as a caring and compassionate physician. She is a doctor whose truest desire is for every patient to be restored to his or her fullest potential for wellbeing.

In the summer of 2013, Dr. Babare joined the CVSI team practicing in both Manatee and Sarasota counties. She and her husband Nick look forward to establishing their careers and family here.

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