Atherosclerosis: Who is at risk?

Atherosclerosis typically affects those with poor lifestyle habits and medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes. A family history of heart disease also puts you at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, which usually affects men over 50 and women over 60.

“Smokers, diabetics and people with unhealthy eating habits run the highest risk of developing it,” says Dr Aaron Wong, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiology, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Is there a cure for atherosclerosis?

There is no cure for atherosclerosis, but there is hope. A patient who takes appropriate medical guidance and is willing to modify his lifestyle can live a relatively normal life.

“Coronary atherosclerosis is a degenerative disease which progresses with age even with a healthy lifestyle. But its progression is slower than in those who don’t look after themselves. If someone changes his lifestyle, it will definitely reduce his risk of a heart attack, compared to someone else who continues to live unhealthily,” said Dr Wong.

Treatment options for atherosclerosis

Once atherosclerosis is diagnosed, there are three main forms of treatment.

Medication

Medicine, such as aspirin or statins, can be prescribed to reduce the risk of a heart attack and to treat the risk factors the patient has.

Stent surgery

A stent – a metal mesh tube – can be inserted into the blocked artery to keep it open so that blood can flow through. This method is typically used in patients with less severe or complex blockages.

Heart bypass

The patient can undergo a heart bypass, in which a vein or artery is taken from another part of the body and used to create a bridge around the blockage. Heart bypasses are done in severe conditions when all three arteries to the heart are blocked, and will usually last for about 10 years or more. Those with high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes are advised to keep these conditions in check through proper medication, as they are risk factors for heart disease.

In addition, Dr Wong advises patients who have been treated for heart disease to be particularly vigilant with their lifestyle habits and to continue with their medication, even if their symptoms go away.

Read on to find out about atherosclerosis complications and how to prevent them.

Ref: R14