Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, are often the best treatment for atherosclerosis. Sometimes, medication or surgical procedures may be recommended as well.
Various drugs can slow — or even reverse — the effects of atherosclerosis. Here are some common choices:
- Cholesterol medications. Aggressively lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, can slow, stop or even reverse the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries. Boosting your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, may help, too. Your doctor can choose from a range of cholesterol medications, including drugs known as statins and fibrates. In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins have additional effects that help stabilize the lining of your heart arteries and prevent atherosclerosis.
- Anti-platelet medications. Your doctor may prescribe anti-platelet medications, such as aspirin, to reduce the likelihood that platelets will clump in narrowed arteries, form a blood clot and cause further blockage.
- Beta blocker medications. These medications are commonly used for coronary artery disease. They lower your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the demand on your heart and often relieve symptoms of chest pain. Beta blockers reduce the risk of heart attacks and some heart rhythm problems.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These medications may help slow the progression of atherosclerosis by lowering blood pressure and producing other beneficial effects on the heart arteries. ACE inhibitors can also reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks.
- Calcium channel blockers. These medications lower blood pressure and are sometimes used to treat angina.
- Water pills (diuretics). High blood pressure is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis. Diuretics lower blood pressure.
- Other medications. Your doctor may suggest certain medications to control specific risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as diabetes. Sometimes specific medications to treat symptoms of atherosclerosis, such as leg pain during exercise, are prescribed.
Sometimes more aggressive treatment is needed. If you have severe symptoms or a blockage that threatens muscle or skin tissue survival, you may be a candidate for one of the following surgical procedures:
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- Angioplasty and stent placement. In this procedure, your doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the blocked or narrowed part of your artery. A second catheter with a deflated balloon on its tip is then passed through the catheter to the narrowed area. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the deposits against your artery walls. A mesh tube (stent) is usually left in the artery to help keep the artery open.
- Endarterectomy. In some cases, fatty deposits must be surgically removed from the walls of a narrowed artery. When the procedure is done on arteries in the neck (the carotid arteries), it's called a carotid endarterectomy.
- Thrombolytic therapy. If you have an artery that's blocked by a blood clot, your doctor may use a clot-dissolving drug to break it apart.
- Bypass surgery. Your doctor may create a graft bypass using a vessel from another part of your body or a tube made of synthetic fabric. This allows blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed artery.
- What is atherosclerosis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Atherosclerosis/Atherosclerosis_All.html. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Atherosclerosis. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/WhyCholesterolMatters/Atherosclerosis_UCM_305564_Article.jsp. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Zhao X. Pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.
- Kalanuria AA, et al. The prevention and regression of atherosclerosis plaques: Emerging treatments. Vascular Health and Risk Management. 2012;8:549.
- Smith SC, et al. American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology Foundation Secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2011 update. Circulation. 2011;124:2458.
- The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/jnc7full.htm. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Natural product effectiveness checker: High cholesterol. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Natural product effectiveness checker: Atherosclerosis. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Natural product effectiveness checker: Hypertension. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.