Vascular Health

General Information
Also on this topic:
An Active, Healthy Lifestyle
A Healthy Diet
The Circulatory System

We do not fully understand vascular disease, but once it occurs we are unable to reverse it or stop the process occurring. We know that there are risk factors that speed up the process of atherosclerosis and make some people more likely to develop this condition. These are:

Vascular disease can also be a hereditary condition. If you have a history of vascular disease in your family, you may want to discuss this with your healthcare practitioner.

To get an indication of your potential risk and for pointers on how to minimise them, try out our vascular risk checker. It only takes a few minutes to complete.

We also have some hints and tips for a healthy diet and active, healthy lifestyle which you can view online, or download a PDF for ongoing reference, to help you change bad habits and improve your vascular health.

Smoking
Smoking has been directly related to:

  • accelerating the process of atherosclerosis
  • the furring up of your arteries and reducing the amount of blood flow
  • thickening of the blood, making it difficult to pass through narrow arteries

The medical advice is to stop smoking, but no one else is able to do this for you and you need to decide yourself if you want to do it. There is plenty of assistance available to stop smoking, through your GP practice, your local pharmacy or the hospital. You can find local quit smoking services and other useful tools online (including an iPhone app and cost calculator) on the NHS Choices website.

Diabetes
If you are not known to be diabetic, your fasting blood sugar (glucose) level should be checked to ensure there is no underlying problem that is not being treated.

It can be possible to have a glucose level that is not high enough to be diabetic, but is not low enough to be normal. This is known as glucose intolerance. In this instance it is sensible to control the sugar level in your diet and have a regular check of your blood to ensure the blood glucose level is not rising.

If you are diabetic this increases your chances of having a high blood glucose level on a regular basis and this accelerates the process of atherosclerosis. Diabetics also tend to develop atherosclerosis in a different pattern from those who are not diabetic, which can make it difficult to treat when the disease becomes severe. Therefore it is very important for diabetics to have a good control of their blood sugar levels and to take especially good care of their feet.

More information on vascular disease and diabetes.

High blood pressure (Hypertension)
High blood pressure is known to increase the process of atherosclerosis, and your blood pressure should be checked to ensure it is reaching a target of 140 over 85, however these readings can change depending on your age. If you are already known to have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be checked on a regular basis to make sure your tablets are keeping your blood pressure to the amount specified by your healthcare professional.

Cholesterol
Cholesterol is the fat that is in your blood, with a tenth coming from the food you eat and the rest made by your liver. Cholesterol is known to increase the process of atherosclerosis.  With peripheral arterial disease your target cholesterol level should be lower than normal, with the total cholesterol less than 4 mmol/L and LDL cholesterol less than 2 mmol/L (this is lower than the NHS recommendations of 5mmol/L total blood cholesterol and 3 mmol/L of LDL cholesterol). It is unusual to have a natural cholesterol level below these targets and most individuals require medication to work on the liver to produce less cholesterol.

The only medication shown by research to reduce your cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke are the statin medications. After starting on a statin medication your cholesterol level should be checked to ensure it is working and bringing your cholesterol levels down to target. Once your cholesterol levels are to target, they can be checked once a year, but the medication is required for life, since it has other beneficial effects on the arteries.

Statins
Statins are a medicine that is prescribed to help regulate blood cholesterol levels by reducing the cholesterol in the body and increasing the removal of cholesterol from the blood. As previously explained, our liver produces its own cholesterol.  It also produces a protein known as LDL (low density lipoprotein) receptors.  LDL transports cholesterol around the body in blood.  LDL receptors grab hold of the LDL particles from the blood and put them to use in the cells.

Statin medication reduces the amount of cholesterol your liver creates and at the same time it enhances the production of LDL receptors and helps to keep your cholesterol levels balanced.

Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight or body mass index helps you to keep all your risk factors under control. Reducing your weight reduces your risk of becoming diabetic, reduces your blood pressure and reduces your cholesterol level.

How else can I reduce the risk of getting vascular disease?

  • Eat a healthy diet and control your blood sugar levels
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • If you smoke, kick the habit
  • Keep an eye on your blood pressure
  • Be aware of any new conditions or changes in your body
  • Have regular medical examinations, at least once a year
  • Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor

Whilst we make every effort to ensure that the information contained on this site is accurate, it is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and the Circulation Foundation recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.

The Circulation Foundation cannot accept liability for any loss or damage resulting from any inaccuracy in this information or third party information such as information on websites to which we link.

The information provided is intended to support patients, not provide personal medical advice.