Preventing Carotid Artery Disease

Lifestyle changes can help delay or prevent carotid artery disease, a form of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Carotid artery disease is a potentially dangerous blockage in one or both carotid arteries in the neck, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain. The condition is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries.

The most common risk factors for carotid artery disease include hypertension, or high blood pressure; cigarette smoking; unhealthy cholesterol levels; and a family history of the condition. People with diabetes also have a significantly increased risk of developing carotid artery disease and stroke—a disruption in blood flow to a part of the brain. Aging, obesity, and a lack of exercise can contribute to conditions that increase your risk of carotid artery disease, as well as atherosclerosis elsewhere in the body.

You can decrease or eliminate known risk factors for this condition by making lifestyle changes, such as managing high blood pressure and adopting a healthy diet. This can help to prevent a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries and in other arteries throughout your body.

Doctors at NYU Langone may prescribe certain medications to treat conditions that can increase your risk of carotid artery disease and stroke. Such medications can help prevent or slow the development of atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries and other areas of the body, reducing your overall risk of stroke.

Quitting Smoking

Because smoking tobacco damages the lining of blood vessels and increases plaque buildup in the arteries, our doctors recommend quitting to help prevent or stop the progression of carotid artery disease and reduce the risk of stroke.

To help you quit, NYU Langone offers Tobacco Cessation Programs, including group or individual programs.

Improving Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made by your body and found in food. Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to the formation of plaque in the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to circulate. The buildup can cause a blockage in the carotid arteries.

There are two types of cholesterol. “Good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), helps to remove unhealthy cholesterol from the body. “Bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), attaches to the walls of arteries, potentially blocking them.

Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, can help to boost HDL cholesterol levels. By contrast, trans fats and saturated fats, such as those found in some margarines, can raise LDL levels. Too much bad cholesterol or not enough good cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of developing a buildup of plaque in blood vessels.

Adopting a healthier diet can help to improve cholesterol levels. NYU Langone doctors may suggest eating more colorful fruits and vegetables, for instance, as well as lean protein. They may also recommend that you limit or avoid fried foods, sugary desserts, heavy creams and dressings, and fatty cuts of meat.

Your doctor may prescribe statins or other medications to help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Typically, doctors recommend medications to people with high LDL cholesterol levels—190 mg/dL or higher—and to those with a history of stroke or diabetes.

Lowering Blood Pressure

Nearly 80 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which puts stress on the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to organ and tissue damage, heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.

If you have carotid artery disease, your NYU Langone doctor monitors your blood pressure. Blood pressure readings include two numbers. The systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in arteries when the heart is resting between beats.

Blood pressure is considered high when systolic pressure (the top number) is 140 mmHg or higher, diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is 90 mmHg or higher, or both numbers are raised.

If you have high blood pressure, an NYU Langone doctor may recommend monitoring your blood pressure regularly, either at home, at a pharmacy, or in the doctor’s office. Making lifestyle changes, such as eating healthfully, exercising regularly, reducing your consumption of salt and alcohol, and stopping the use of tobacco may help lower your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Reaching and Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. Excess weight or body fat can increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lead to diabetes and stroke. Obesity is defined as being 20 percent or more above ideal weight.

You can reduce your weight by exercising regularly and reducing the number of calories you consume. NYU Langone doctors can direct you to our Weight Management Program to help you reach and maintain a healthier body weight.

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