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Atherosclerosis - Coronary artery disease
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Atherosclerosis - Coronary artery disease 


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Heart Disease


Lifestyle changes can improve the health of your arteries. Doctors also use several types of medications to slow or reverse the effects of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs. Aggressively lowering the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — the "bad" cholesterol — in your blood can slow, stop or even reverse the buildup of plaques. Your doctor can choose from a range of cholesterol-lowering drugs, including medications known as statins and fibrates.

  • Anti-platelet medications. Your doctor may prescribe anti-platelet medications — such as aspirin — to reduce the likelihood that platelets will clump at atherosclerotic sites, form a blood clot and cause further blockage.

  • Anticoagulants. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an anticoagulant, such as heparin or warfarin (Coumadin) to help "thin" your blood and prevent clots from forming in your arteries and blocking blood flow.

  • Blood vessel dilators. Blood vessel dilators (vasodilators), such as prostaglandins, prevent the muscles in the walls of your arteries from tightening and stop your arteries from narrowing. But these are potent medications generally used only when other medications don't work.

  • Other medications. Your doctor may suggest certain medications to control your risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high homocysteine levels. He or she may also recommend specific medications for symptoms, such as intermittent claudication.

If you have severe symptoms, a severe blockage that threatens muscle or skin tissue survival, or hampered function of one of your organs, you may be a candidate for one of the following surgeries:

  • Angioplasty. In this procedure, your doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the blocked or narrowed part of your artery. A wire with a deflated balloon is passed through the catheter to the narrow area. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the plaques against your artery walls. A mesh tube (stent) may be left in the artery to help keep the artery open.

  • Embolectomy. A catheter can also be used to fish out blood clots. This is called embolectomy.

  • Endarterectomy. In some cases, it may be necessary to surgically remove plaques from the walls of a narrowed artery. In this procedure, a surgeon makes an incision to open your artery, then removes the plaques and closes the artery.

  • Vascular 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. It's most commonly used to improve blood flow to the legs, but a graft can also be used to repair a large or leaking aortic aneurysm.

  • Thrombolytic therapy. If you have an artery that's blocked by a blood clot, your doctor may insert a clot-dissolving drug into your artery at the point of the clot to break it up.

Some of these interventions require angiography — a procedure in which a small catheter is inserted into your arteries and filled with dye, allowing your doctor to see narrow spots and blockages with the help of X-rays.

If the disease affects the arteries of your heart, your doctor may recommend coronary artery bypass surgery. This can improve blood flow to your heart and relieve chest pain. If the disease affects the arteries of your neck, your doctor may recommend carotid artery surgery to remove buildup of plaques and improve blood flow to your brain.

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