Atherosclerosis, more commonly known as hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. Plaque deposits narrow the arteries, which can eventually become blocked and restrict blood flow. In some cases, plaque in your arteries can lead to a stroke. Certain risk factors increase a person's chances of developing carotid artery disease. You can take steps to manage or reduce risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Quit smoking to reduce the buildup of plaque in your arteries and prevent more plaque from accumulating. If you are a smoker, this is one of the first lifestyle changes you need to make. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research points out that the nicotine in cigarettes often irritates the inner lining of the walls of the arteries. As a result, extra pressure caused by increased heart rate and blood pressure can weaken the walls of your arteries and lead to buildup of the fatty deposits known as plaque.
Exercise regularly. If you have other major risk factors for carotid artery disease, you need to increase your level of physical activity. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower the risk of diabetes, and lower blood pressure and high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. Regular exercise also helps to raise the levels of good cholesterol in the blood. This in turn can aid in preventing the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Follow the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) program to lower your cholesterol. The plan includes eating a diet low in saturated fats, managing your weight and increasing your physical activity. The diet includes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, which are high in soluble fiber. Eating fish is also recommended, as fish are good sources of the omega-3 fatty acids that can help to lower cholesterol. Limit your intake of sodium, and consume less alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise both your blood pressure and triglyceride level.
Follow the DASH diet if you have high blood pressure, another one of the risk factors for carotid artery disease. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is a low fat, low cholesterol eating plan that focuses on eating foods rich in nutrients and high in protein and fiber. People following this diet need to cut back on red meats and foods containing refined sugar, and consume more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and low fat or nonfat dairy products.
Talk to your doctor about any underlying health conditions that could increase your risk for plaque buildup in the arteries. Follow the instructions of your health care provider if you suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or a blood or circulatory disorder. In some cases, lifestyle changes may not be enough to treat these conditions; therefore, you doctor may prescribe medications.
Consider surgery if your condition is severe or if you've already had a stroke or are showing signs of a transient ischemic attack. A carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure in which plaque is removed from the arteries. Doctors usually recommend this medical procedure when a person's carotid arteries are blocked 50 percent or more. Carotid artery angioplasty or stenting are other procedures used to widen narrow or blocked arteries and restore blood flow to the brain.
The NHLBI recommends that individuals who are overweight and at higher risk for carotid artery disease lose at least 10 percent of their total body weight. Depending on your weight, you may need to lose additional pounds in order to lower you body weight index to less than 25, thereby reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.