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Atherosclerosis and Stroke: How Excess Plaque May Cause Stroke

Atherosclerosis and stroke are closely related.

Although atherosclerosis is not a leading cause of stroke, it’s a condition that worsens stroke risk factors that can eventually lead to stroke.

So, what can you do about it?

To help you prevent stroke and treat atherosclerosis, we’ll share the best practices to manage the condition.

Let’s start with some basics.

How Atherosclerosis Develops

link between atherosclerosis and stroke

Atherosclerosis happens when fat and cholesterol build up in your arteries, which causes them to narrow and harden.

The condition starts when the inner lining of the artery becomes damaged from these conditions:

  • High cholesterol
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Toxic substances in cigarettes
  • High sugar levels
  • Other factors in the blood.

Once blood vessels become damaged, the buildup of plaque begins and atherosclerosis starts.

So, yes, it’s true: high cholesterol can lead to stroke, especially when it causes atherosclerosis.

The Link Between Atherosclerosis and Stroke

atherosclerosis and stroke risks

If atherosclerosis is left unmanaged, the blood vessel continues to narrow.

This increases the chance of a blood clot getting stuck in the narrowed artery and cutting off the supply of blood.

If this happens in the heart, it causes a heart attack.

When it happens in the brain, it can cause a stroke.

Ischemic Stroke Caused by Excess Plaque

ischemic stroke caused by atherosclerosis and excess plaque

Ischemic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain becomes clogged by a blood clot, cutting off the supply of blood to the brain.

Most ischemic strokes are caused by atherosclerosis.

There are other causes for ischemic stroke (like Small Vessel Disease), but atherosclerosis is the leading cause.

Treatment for ischemic stroke often involves tPA, a blood thinning drug that’s best used within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke.

However, if possible, it’s best to manage atherosclerosis before stroke happens.

Management for Atherosclerosis to Prevent Stroke

If your doctor knows that you have atherosclerosis, (s)he may suggest preventive treatments to manage the condition.

Here are 4 ways atherosclerosis is managed to help prevent stroke:

1. Antiplatelet Medication

medication for atherosclerosis and stroke risk factors

This helps thin the blood and discourage the formation of blood clots.

Common antiplatelet medications include clopidogrel (Plavix), prasugrel (Effient), and acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin).

(Yes, aspirin can help prevent stroke when atherosclerosis is present.)

If your doctor prescribes you with any of these medications, be extra careful with yourself.

If you get hurt and bleed, your body will not be able to clot as fast to stop the bleeding.

2. Intracranial Angioplasty and Stenting

This surgical procedure helps improve the blood flow in an artery that’s thick with atherosclerotic plaque.

Using a stent, a tiny balloon is inserted into the artery to widen the passageway. Then, a stent is placed to help keep the artery open and prevent stroke.

Here’s an interesting video that demonstrates how it works:

3. Cerebral Artery Bypass Surgery

During cerebral bypass surgery, a surgeon reroutes blood flow around an atherosclerotic artery to prevent a blood clot from getting stuck.

Cerebral bypasses are done by either taking an artery or vein from elsewhere in the body (called a vessel graft), or an artery is detached on one ends and redirected inside the skull (called a donor artery).

4. Carotid Endarterectomy

surgery for atherosclerosis to prevent stroke

Sometimes atherosclerosis creates plaque buildup in the carotid artery – the major artery in your neck that supplied blood to the brain.

A stroke in the carotid artery often leads to a massive stroke because this artery is greatly important.

To help prevent a stroke, a surgeon can perform a carotid endarterectomy by going directly into the carotid artery and removing excess plaque.

We would include a video, but it’s quite gruesome to watch. Search for it at your own risk.

5. Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting

When a carotid endarterectomy is too risky, doctors may perform a carotid angioplasty and stenting.

This is the same as the intracranial angioplasty and stenting, but it’s performed in the carotid artery to help prevent a massive stroke.

Dietary Management for Atherosclerosis and Stroke Prevention

healthy diet for atherosclerosis management

Aside from drugs and surgery, you can help manage atherosclerosis with the foods you eat.

Specifically, you can help manage atherosclerosis through your diet by eating foods that help lower LDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and regulate blood sugar.

Some specific foods that help stroke recovery are:

  • Salmon (omega 3’s)
  • Nuts and avocado (healthy fats)
  • Blueberries (antioxidants)

You can even enjoy healthy-but-indulgent snacks like avocado toast, which is full of fiber that helps reduce cholesterol.

Summary: How to Manage Atherosclerosis and Stroke

how to manage atherosclerosis and stroke

Overall, atherosclerosis and stroke are linked because excess plaque in the arteries can lead to an ischemic stroke.

There are several ways to manage atherosclerosis before it leads to stroke, like surgery and dietary interventions.

If you or a loved one have atherosclerosis and worry that it may lead to a stroke, now is the time to talk to your doctor.

They will have recommendations to help prevent a stroke.

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