Heart and Vascular Health 4 Critical Tips for Preventing Vascular Disease By Heart and Vascular Institute, September 8, 2017 Your blood vessels do an important job, bringing oxygen and nutrients to your organs and tissues. But if your blood vessels become weak, damaged, or blocked because of vascular disease, you may be at risk for serious health problems. For more information about preventing vascular disease, visit the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery website or call 412-802-3333. Vascular disease has many causes, from age and family history to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lifestyle choices that affect your blood vessels. Check out these four simple vascular disease prevention tips and learn how you can keep your blood vessels healthy. Vascular Disease Prevention Tips Don’t smoke Smoking harms your blood vessels in many ways, raising your risk for: Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This happens when a hard substance called plaque builds up inside your artery walls, making them narrow and stiff. Atherosclerosis is linked to serious conditions like heart attack and stroke. Abdominal aortic aneurysm, a bulge or weak spot in the main artery in your abdomen. If an aneurysm ruptures (or bursts), it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous blood clot in a vein. If a piece of the clot breaks loose, it can travel to your heart, lungs, or brain, causing life-threatening problems like heart attack, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which happens when the blood vessels in your legs become narrow or blocked. If left untreated, PAD can lead to limb loss. Stroke, a potentially life-threatening condition that happens when blood flow to your brain is blocked. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and avoid secondhand smoke as well. And even if you’ve smoked for many years, it’s not too late to quit. Talk with your doctor about how to get the help you need. Get — and stay — active Regular physical activity can lower your risk for vascular disease by helping you manage your: Being overweight or obese makes you more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which are linked to vascular disease. Blood pressure. High blood pressure damages blood vessels and raises your risk for atherosclerosis and stroke. Your body needs cholesterol to work the right way, but too much can build up in your arteries and lead to atherosclerosis, which raises your risk for heart attack, PAD, and stroke. Blood sugar level. Blood sugar is linked to diabetes, which changes the chemistry of your blood and can make your blood vessels narrow. Set a goal to achieve 30 minutes of physical activity each day. If you don’t have 30 minutes, break up your activity into smaller blocks of time. Choose healthy foods A healthy diet goes a long way for your blood vessels by helping you control risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Choose a balanced diet that includes: A variety of colorful fruits and vegetables Whole grains Lean meat and poultry Fish Beans Low-fat or fat-free dairy products Follow your treatment plan for diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are linked to vascular disease, so it’s important to follow your treatment plan. Take the medicines your doctor prescribes and talk about the changes you need to make to your lifestyle, such as getting more physical activity, choosing healthier foods, quitting smoking, or finding healthy ways to cope with stress. Keep regular appointments with your doctor to monitor your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar level, and to discuss changes in how you are feeling.