It’s hard to watch your favorite program without seeing an ad for cholesterol-lowering medication. With more than 100 million Americans suffering from high cholesterol, it’s no wonder why. Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Genetics and eating too much saturated and trans fats can spike cholesterol levels, leaving you at risk for vascular disease. To prevent conditions such as carotid artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysms and peripheral arterial disease, it’s important to know what cholesterol is, how to manage it and receive the proper screenings for diseases you are at risk for.
Carotid artery disease refers to the narrowing of the carotid arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. “This occurs when cholesterol and plaque build up and decrease blood flow,” says John Gocke, MD, the medical director of the vascular lab at Adventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals. “The more blocked these blood vessels become, the higher the risk of stroke.”
Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are caused when the aortic wall weakens, which causes “ballooning” or a bulge in the blood vessel. The aorta is the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. If an aneurysm isn’t diagnosed and treated, it can rupture – which carries an 80 to 90 percent risk of death.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries in the leg become too narrow because of plaque and cholesterol buildup on the inside of the artery walls. This can limit blood flow to the kidneys, intestines and other organs in the body. If left untreated, PAD can prevent normal walking and can lead to skin sores, ulcers and gangrene.
At Adventist Hinsdale and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospitals, people can receive specialized screenings and diagnostic tests for all three of these conditions in a dedicated vascular lab. “Many people don’t experience any symptoms until these conditions are advanced – which is why screening for them is so important,” says Dr. Gocke.
Specialists use vascular ultrasound as a noninvasive method to detect carotid artery disease, AAA and PAD. “By using ultrasound, we can see how fast blood flows through the arteries, which tells us how tight the blockage is,” Dr. Gocke says.
Because vascular disease is asymptomatic, Dr. Gocke says paying attention to risk factors is the best indicator of when, or if, someone should be screened. Risk factors include:
- Family history of vascular disease
- Being older than 60
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Eating a high-fat diet
- Previously having had a heart attack, stent, angioplasty or bypass surgery
“Everyone’s risk profile is different, so work with your doctor to decide what screening regimen is best for you,” Dr. Gocke says. Take an online risk assessment for vascular disease by clicking here.
The power of prevention
To prevent vascular disease, Dr. Gocke says maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key. “Exercising regularly, eating a low-fat diet and seeing your doctor for annual physicals can help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index – which can all decrease your risk of developing vascular disease,” he says. “It’s always easier and less expensive to prevent disease than it is to treat.”
For more information or to find a physician, call us at 866-533-7968.