Treatment

Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, are often the most appropriate treatment for atherosclerosis. Sometimes, medication or surgical procedures may be recommended as well.

Medications

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.

Surgical procedures

Sometimes more aggressive treatment is needed to treat atherosclerosis. 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:

  • 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.
  • Fibrinolytic 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.

Alternative medicine

It's thought that some foods and herbal supplements can help reduce your high cholesterol level and high blood pressure, two major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. With your doctor's OK, you might consider these supplements and products:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Barley
  • Beta-sitosterol (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Promise Activ)
  • Black tea
  • Blond psyllium (found in seed husk and products such as Metamucil)
  • Calcium
  • Cocoa
  • Cod liver oil
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Fish oil
  • Folic acid
  • Garlic
  • Green tea
  • Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats)
  • Sitostanol (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Benecol)
  • Vitamin C

Talk to your doctor before adding any of these supplements to your atherosclerosis treatment. Some supplements can interact with medications, causing harmful side effects.

You can also practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing, to help you relax and reduce your stress level. These practices can temporarily reduce your blood pressure, reducing your risk of developing atherosclerosis.