High Cholesterol a Threat to the Entire Vascular System (Not Just Heart Vessels)

Everyone understands the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels to protect their heart, but many are not aware of how high cholesterol levels threaten the health of their entire vascular system. Vascular diseases cause strokes, death from ruptured aortic aneurysm, pain when walking, or leg amputation in the worst cases.

High levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol are one of the major risk factors for vascular disease that can result in paralysis, blindness, or speech abnormality due to stroke and even death by a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

The vascular system is made up of all the body's arteries and veins. Healthy vessels are smooth and unobstructed, allowing oxygen-rich blood to flow freely and deliver glucose and nutrients to the vital organs, brain, legs, and arms. Typically with age, the vessels build up plaque, a sticky substance made up mostly of fat and cholesterol. The plaque narrows the passageway within the vessels and causes them to become stiff. Vascular disease results when the vessels become too narrow or obstructed, and limit the flow of blood.

Here are a few suggestions to take control of your cholesterol levels:

· Keep your refrigerator filled with only good food like fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free daily foods.

· Pay attention to food labels when you shop. Purchase foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

· Control the portion size of your meals.

· Exercise. Even moderate physical activity, like walking 30 minutes daily will help maintain your cholesterol levels.

· Know what your cholesterol numbers are.

· Follow your doctor's treatment if you have trouble lowering your cholesterol levels.

Other risk factors for vascular disease include: high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and diabetes. People who are 55 or older, particularly those who have a family history of vascular disease, should discuss their risk factors with their primary care physician. The three most prevalent vascular diseases are:

· Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries in the neck become narrow and stiff with plaque. Strokes result either from obstruction of the blood flow to the brain by or when bits of plaque and clots break off from the plaque and flow to the brain.

· Peripheral arterial disease occurs when the peripheral arteries in the leg become too narrow or obstructed and limit the blood flow to the legs. If left untreated, peripheral arterial disease can cause pain or aching in the legs, difficulty with walking, resting pain in the foot at night in bed, non-healing sores or infections in the toes or feet, and can lead to limb loss in its most sever form. In addition, it can be associated with other serious arterial conditions leading to heart attacks and stroke. African Americans and Hispanic populations have a higher occurrence of PAD.

· Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) occur when the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, progressively weakens and begins to bulge. An AAA may continue to enlarge and eventually rupture if left untreated, causing severe internal bleeding and possibly death.

Vascular disease can be effectively treated if detected early with a painless, noninvasive

screening. If evidence of vascular disease is found, see a vascular surgeon who has the expertise to give the best diagnosis and treat with noninvasive and other procedures. To learn more about your vascular health and vascular diseases visit www.VascularWeb.org, or call 877-282-2010 for free brochures.

Republished with permission by the Society for Vascular Surgery. Vascular surgeons provide expert care for circulatory disease. They are the only physicians who are skilled in all vascular treatments including medical management, noninvasive procedures, as well as surgery for advanced cases. Learn more about vascular conditions and treatments and find a vascular surgeon at VascularWeb.