Vascular disease is not fully understood, but once it occurs it is not possible to reverse or stop it from occurring. We do however know what the main risk factors are that speed up the process of atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty material called atheroma within the artery walls causing them to narrow) and make some people more likely to develop this condition. These are:
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Diet and weight
Vascular disease can also be a hereditary condition, so if you have a history of the disease in your family, please discuss this with your GP.
If you’re over 40 years old, you are entitled to a free health check, which is carried out by your GP or practice nurse. Based on the results of your health check, your GP or nurse will advise you on what you can do to keep your heart and circulation healthy. Your GP will also consider whether you need to take medicine to protect your heart and circulation.
To get an indication of your potential risk and for pointers on how to minimise them, please try out the vascular risk checker. It only takes a few minutes to complete.Here is the link www.circulationfoundation.org.uk/risk-checker
Smoking is the worst enemy of vascular disease and can increase the likelihood of developing the disease by 400%. It is very rare to find someone with arterial vascular disease who has not smoked at some stage in their life. It increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and lower limb amputation.
It can be hard to quit, so getting support is important. Your GP can give you advice on how to give up, and information on stop-smoking services, nicotine-replacement products, and medicines to help you stop smoking.
Or you could try one of the following helplines or websites:
Smokefree – Phone: 0800 022 4 332.
QUIT – Phone: 0800 00 22 00.
Eating a healthy diet can reduce your chances of developing vascular disease. A balanced diet can not only keep your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure under control, but it can also prevent against fatty deposits building up in your arteries. It can also reduce your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.
Make sure you include plenty of fruit, vegetables and starchy foods, like wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, and reduce the amount of saturated fat, salt and sugar you include in your diet.
- Fruits and vegetables – There is good evidence that eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day can lower the risk of vascular disease. Why not sign up to the Change 4 life Fruit & Veg Boost and receive FREE recipes, useful hints and tips and shopping advice! See the website here.
- Fats – We all need some fat in our diet; it is a good source of energy and provides essential fatty acids which our bodies cannot make themselves. However, eating too much saturated fat, can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood and increase your risk of vascular disease. Try cutting back on the total amount of fat you eat and replace saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Salt – Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. By reducing the amount of salt you consume you can lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of vascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Exercise is key to vascular health too. Exercise keeps us all fit and healthy, and for patients with vascular disease it can be particularly important. Patients with peripheral vascular disease can improve their symptoms and ability to mobilise, by undertaking a specific exercise programme. Patients who require an operation, both major and minor, can improve their recovery rate by being fitter and healthier beforehand. Could this be the right time for you to increase your level of exercise? Start with simple goals, and slowly build up your own exercise regime.
For more information on the benefits of physical activity please visit the Physical activity guidelines for adults