Don’t ignore your vascular health

When you learn “sudden death” is often the first symptom of heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, being proactive about your cardiovascular health takes on a new priority.

When you learn “sudden death” is often the first symptom of heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, being proactive about your cardiovascular health takes on a new priority.

“When you get to this age, you see some people beginning to drop around you unexpectedly, and you think, ‘That could be me,’’’ said 52-year-old Michael Shugart, who doesn’t want to become a statistic.

One-half of men and two-thirds of women who die suddenly from heart disease had no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.

Shugart, who says he is about 25 pounds overweight, knew he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol — all modifiable risk factors for heart disease. He decided to get a vascular screening because he didn’t know a lot about his family’s medical history.

“Since heart disease can run in families, it’s helpful to know whether parents, siblings or other relatives have a history of heart attack, aneurysm or stroke,” said Casey Yossa, M.D., vascular surgeon.

Unlike cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, who focus mainly on the arteries within the heart, vascular surgeons deal with the vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Vascular screenings can detect issues that affect blood circulation. According to Dr. Yossa, the two main types of artery damage seen by vascular specialists are plaque buildup, which creates blockages, and aneurysms, which are artery bulges that can lead to catastrophic ruptures.

“Treatments range from lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise and diabetes management, to starting a prescription drug regimen,” Dr. Yossa said. “In more severe cases, surgical correction could be necessary.”

Alert your physician if you have unexplained leg pain, varicose veins or a family history of cardiovascular disease. Other signals that could prompt testing and intervention include an abnormal pulse, abnormal results from vascular lab tests and slow-healing wounds on the legs.

Shugart’s screening showed some plaque buildup in the carotid arteries, which will be treated through medication, exercise and dietary improvements.

“It was not a rude awakening, but it was still eye-opening,” Shugart said.


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