Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. 17.9 million people die from them each year, equating to roughly 32% of all deaths worldwide.
While vascular conditions contribute to this, they are not inevitable. And there are steps that every one of us can take to reduce our risk of developing them.
Let’s explore exactly what vascular conditions are, what causes them, and how we can prevent them.
What Are Vascular Conditions?
Vascular isn’t a word we use every day, but its basic meaning is the body’s network of blood vessels. This includes the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart and to the cells. Veins bring blood back to your heart and capillaries connect the arteries and veins.
A cardiovascular condition affects both the heart and the blood vessels. In this article, we’re going to focus on those that affect the system of blood vessels in our bodies and how we can keep them in great shape.
Common Vascular Conditions
The most common vascular condition is stroke. When a stroke happens, the blood flow to part of the brain is disrupted. Without the oxygen and nutrients they need, brain cells quickly begin to die.
There are two types of stroke – ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot in the blood vessel stopping the blood from passing through. A hemorrhagic stroke is a bleed in the brain, caused by a broken blood vessel.
Other common vascular conditions include:
- Blood clots
- Coronary artery disease
- Varicose veins
- Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
- Raynaud’s disease
These diseases have different causes and in some cases the cause is unknown. But there are some common risk factors, which give us a clue about how to prevent them. These include:
- High cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
While we can’t do much about age and genetics, there are other factors that we can control.
Treatment Options for Vascular Diseases
Each vascular condition is different and treatment may range from lifestyle changes to surgery. For example, treatment options for PAD include angiogram and peripheral artery bypass. Others can be treated with medications, such as blood thinners and drugs that dissolve clots.
Preventing Vascular Conditions
If you’ve been diagnosed with a vascular condition, your doctor will give you advice about the right lifestyle changes to make. But if you have one of the risk factors, let’s explore what you can do to reduce your risk of developing one.
Managing and Preventing Diabetes
Diabetes has a detrimental effect on vascular health because high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels. They also cause damage to the nerves controlling your heart. It does damage in a few ways:
- High glucose levels reduce nitric oxide, increasing blood pressure and narrowing blood vessels
- Makes blood vessels less elastic
- Causes blood vessels to narrow, constricting the blood flow
If you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your blood sugar levels. This can be done through eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. In addition, your doctor may prescribe medications or insulin to help with this.
If you do not have diabetes, there are steps you can take to prevent it. The first is to lose excess weight. A study showed that losing 7% of your body weight reduces your risk of developing diabetes by 60%.
Increasing physical activity also helps. It can make your body more sensitive the insulin which helps to regulate your blood sugar. Even if you already have diabetes, taking these steps can improve your blood sugar levels.
Many benefits come from weight loss, including a reduced risk of vascular conditions.
Rather than embarking on a fad diet, it’s better to make sustainable changes to your lifestyle. This can include eating healthier foods and increasing your physical activity. It’s usually a good idea to aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week rather than a lot of weight in a short time.
The CDC recommends taking a reflective approach to weight loss. First of all, keep a food diary for a few days, writing down everything you eat. Also, write down how you felt when you were eating.
Next, go through the list and highlight any habits that cause you to overeat. Maybe you eat when you are not hungry or eat too fast.
Then try to work on these habits one or two at a time. Gradually, this will get you into better habits that you will be able to sustain long-term. Learn to react differently to the cues that cause you to overeat.
Take your time and be patient with yourself. It’s hard to get out of old habits, but it is possible and your body will benefit from it!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve smoked for years, it’s always the right time to quit.
There is lots of support out there, including quitlines, anti-smoking medicines, and supportive apps. They include strategies for coping with stress without smoking, how to cope if you relapse, and how to use various therapies. Create a personalized plan for dealing with cravings.
When you quit, your heart health will start to improve. Your blood will become thinner, reducing pressure on your heart. Plus, it’s less likely to form blood clots.
It will help to lower the levels of cholesterol circulating around your body. This will help slow down the rate of fatty buildups in your arteries.
Finally, you’ll reduce your risk of heart conditions like heart attacks and heart disease.
Sitting all day and not exercising is not compatible with having a healthy heart and healthy blood vessels.
Start slowly and gradually build up. Introduce some easy walking and gentle stretching. As your stamina improves, work up to 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
Preventing Vascular Conditions Is Better Than Treating It Afterward
Vascular conditions can be life-threatening and irreversible. It’s best to do all you can to prevent them now. A few simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference.
Try to lose a few pounds and if you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Try to get moving, gradually building up to a few hours a week. If you do, you’ll start feeling better and your blood vessels will thank you for you!
If you’d like more hints and tips on staying healthy, head over to our Health section today!