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Controllable Risk Factors – Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the progressive buildup of plaque – fatty deposits and other cells – in artery walls. It can clog arteries and block the flow of blood to the brain or other parts of the body, making a person more at risk for a stroke, TIA or other heart disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis
Atherosclerosis is a silent disease, with no visible symptoms. It can only be detected by a doctor, so it’s important to talk to your doctor regularly about your risk for the condition, especially if you have any risk factors listed below. Atherosclerosis can often be treated with medication and lifestyle changes, but it is important to adhere to any prescribed treatment as your doctor advises.

Risk Factors
Many risk factors for stroke – such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history of heart disease and stroke – are also risk factors for atherosclerosis.

Some risk factors are controllable, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and others are uncontrollable, like age. Read more about risk factors.

  • Age – The older a person gets, the more likely it is that plaque is building in arteries. Read more about age and other uncontrollable risk factors.

  • High Cholesterol – High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis and/or stroke. Too much LDL cholesterol (often called the “bad” cholesterol) in the blood can build in the arteries and form plaque. 

    Studies show that not all cholesterol is dangerous. For example, HDL cholesterol (often called the “good” cholesterol) is believed to help remove cholesterol from the body. Many doctors try to manage cholesterol levels by getting LDL cholesterol down and HDL cholesterol up. Talk to your doctor about risk for high cholesterol and how to best manage it. Read more about high cholesterol.

  • High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure can worsen atherosclerosis and increase the risk of a stroke. While many people have high blood pressure, it can be treated and controlled reducing the disease risks. Have your blood pressure measured regularly and know your blood pressure in numbers. If you have high blood pressure and your doctor prescribes medication, it is important to take it as advised by your doctor. Read more about high blood pressure.

  • Diabetes – Diabetes is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and stroke. However, it can be managed with your doctor’s advice and a treatment plan. Read more about diabetes.

Atherosclerosis is most often a treatable condition. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Talk to your doctor about any necessary medical treatment that is right for your specific situation.
  • If you are prescribed medications for high cholesterol, make sure you take the medicine as advised.
  • If you have high blood pressure and/or diabetes, it is important to work with your doctor to effectively treat the conditions.
  • Exercise as advised by your doctor.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Eat low-fat, low-cholesterol foods especially foods low in saturated fat. This includes vegetables, fruits, lean meats such as chicken and fish, low-fat dairy products and a limited number of egg yolks.
  • Bake, broil, steam or grill your food (instead of frying).
  • Add fiber to your diet, including whole grains or dried beans.

Remember! If you have atherosclerosis, it’s important to know stroke and TIA symptoms and how to respond by acting F.A.S.T. and calling 911. Read more about stroke symptoms and response.


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