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The cardiac experts at the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center have extensive experience diagnosing and treating atherosclerosis. We work with you to create a treatment plan that meets your needs. Our goal is to help you live a full, healthy and pain-free life.
Atherosclerosis Treatment: Why Choose Us?
At UVM Medical Center, we treat a high volume of patients with atherosclerosis. This gives us a depth of expertise in diagnosing this condition as well as finding the right solution for you. We provide care that is:
What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis occurs when fat, cholesterol and other materials build up in your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. This buildup, called plaque, causes your arteries to thicken and narrow. It becomes difficult for the blood to flow efficiently throughout your body.
As a result of atherosclerosis, you may develop:
- Coronary heart disease
- Angina (chest pain)
- Carotid artery disease
- Peripheral artery disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart attack or stroke: This may occur if a piece of the plaque breaks off and causes a blood clot, which travels to the heart or brain.
Risk factors for developing atherosclerosis include smoking, a diet high in fat, excess alcohol consumption and not exercising regularly. You can take steps to lower your risk for atherosclerosis by creating healthy lifestyle habits—eating a diet rich in vegetables, limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and exercising regularly.
Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease, building up silently over the years. Mild atherosclerosis usually does not cause symptoms. When it becomes moderate or severe, symptoms begin because the artery is so clogged it cannot supply blood to your body. In addition, a clot may trigger a stroke or heart attack.
The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. Symptoms include:
- Chest pain or pressure (angina)
- Weakness in your arms or legs, slurred speech or drooping muscles in your face
- Leg or arm pain
- High blood pressure
When we detect atherosclerosis early, we can treat it more successfully. Pay close attention to your body. If you notice early signs of atherosclerosis, such as leg pain, chest pain or numbness, see your doctor.
We begin the diagnosis by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. We perform a comprehensive physical exam. During the exam, we look for signs of weakened arteries, including a weak pulse.
Then we will typically order one or more diagnostic test:
- Blood test: This can detect high levels of cholesterol or blood sugar.
- Doppler ultrasound: Using an ultrasound probe, we measure your blood pressure along your arm or leg.
- Echocardiography: This is an ultrasound of your heart, creating moving pictures that show us how your heart is functioning.
- Ankle-brachial index: We compare the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm to detect vascular disease.
- Electrocardiogram: This test records your heart’s electrical signals.
- Stress test: We monitor your heart rhythm and blood pressure while you walk on a treadmill. If you are unable to exercise, we can give you medication that simulates exercise.
- Cardiac catheterization: This is a more invasive procedure performed in our catheterization lab. We inject a thin tube (catheter) into the artery, usually in your leg and thread it up to your heart. This can detect areas of blockages in your arteries.
- Angiography: Angiography combines X-ray and catheterization to show us whether plaque is blocking your arteries and if so, how severe it is.
- Imaging tests: we may use these tests to gather detailed images of your heart structure:
We will probably recommend lifestyle changes as the first line of therapy. These include:
- Following a heart-healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
Medication to Treat Atherosclerosis
Other treatments include medication and surgery:
- Statin medications: These medicines help lower your cholesterol level, decreasing your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
- Other medications may help:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar
- Prevent blood clots
- Prevent inflammation
Surgery for Atherosclerosis
If lifestyle changes and medication do not provide sufficient relief, we will discuss surgical options with you. Our cardiac surgeons and interventional cardiologists have the skills and resources to perform the full spectrum of procedures. We will work with you to determine which option will offer you the best outcome.
- Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) with stent placement: This opens blocked or narrowed arteries. We often place a mesh tube called a stent in the artery to keep it open.
- Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG): We take arteries or veins from other areas of your body to bypass (go around) the narrowed artery. CABG can relieve chest pain and improve blood flow.
- Carotid endarterectomy: We remove plaque buildup from your carotid arteries, which are in your neck. This restores blood flow to your brain.
Find a doctor or specialist at The UVM Medical Center or call 802-847-2533.