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Can you ‘unclog’ your arteries?


Can you ‘unclog’ your arteries?

It could be happening as you read this: Plaque slowly accumulating in your arteries, restricting blood flow. Eventually, blockages could keep blood from vital organs or cause a clot that results in a heart attack or stroke.
It’s a condition called atherosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries. About half of Americans between the ages of 45 and 84 have the condition, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Allison DeVaux, a certified nurse practitioner at Tidelands Health Cardiology at Murrells Inlet, says atherosclerosis affects many of her patients.
“It can affect anybody — men and women, older and middle aged,” she says. “People may get referred to us with vague symptoms, and the next thing you know, we learn they have a serious condition that requires open heart surgery.”

Prevention is key

That’s why prevention of plaque buildup is so important. Once in the artery, plaque can’t be significantly reduced, though medications and lifestyle changes can help prevent it from getting worse.

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“The old saying is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” DeVaux says.
It’s important to benefit from regular wellness exams with your primary care physician to help spot any heart or other health concerns early when they tend to be easier and more effectively treated. If needed, your primary care physician can refer you to DeVaux or another member of the cardiology team at Tidelands Health.
Of course, iin case of any emergency symptoms, be sure to call 911.
Here are four ways to help limit your risk for atherosclerosis:

Eat healthy

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances. If you want to help prevent plaque buildup, it’s a good idea to eat foods that have less fat and cholesterol.
DeVaux, along with groups such as the American Heart Association, recommends the Mediterranean diet. It centers on plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains, olive oil as a fat source and fish and poultry rather than red meat. Another option is the DASH diet, which favors foods that are high in magnesium, calcium and potassium but low in sodium and added sugars.

Exercise regularly

DeVaux recommends her patients exercise at least 20-30 minutes per day, five days per week. But it doesn’t have to mean intense sessions at the gym — something as simple as riding a bike, swimming or even a brisk walk can have health benefits.
“Whatever will get your heart rate up a little bit,” she says.
Tidelands Health is the exclusive health system partner of the YMCA of Coastal Carolina, including Claire Chapin Epps Family YMCA in Myrtle Beach, Tidelands Health Pawleys Family YMCA and Tidelands Health Georgetown Family YMCA. Together, the two organizations are providing the community with access to a broad variety of services and programs to improve health and wellness.

Reduce stress

If work or other pressures have you at wit’s end every day, that can cause long-term health complications. Stress is known to affect blood pressure, immune system function and hormone levels — all things that can contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries over time.
Stress reduction is vital, DeVaux says. Whether it’s yoga, going for a walk, joining a book club or just turning your phone off sometimes, it’s important to find ways to relax.

Stop smoking

You already knew this one. Smoking has been known to damage blood vessels, increase cholesterol and raise blood pressure — all counterproductive if you’re trying to keep your arteries clear.
Of course, quitting is easier said than done. DeVaux recommends the American Lung Association’s program Freedom From Smoking, which can help keep you on track.

Allison DeVaux is a certified nurse practitioner who provides care at Tidelands Health Cardiology at Murrells Inlet. She is accepting new patients.

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