Vascular disease can encompass a number of conditions including heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Early monitoring by your family medicine doctor can reduce your risk of some of the most common conditions that can lead to disability or premature death.
Have Regular Physicals
It is not only important to visit the doctor at least once per year for a routine physical, but you should make sure your doctor requests the appropriate tests. Basic care should include your blood pressure, weight, and medical history. When your doctor orders tests, they should include blood glucose, a complete blood count, cholesterol levels, metabolic panel, and urinalysis. If you have any chronic diseases, your doctor might choose to include additional tests. A comprehensive physical is not only important to detect obvious changes in your numbers, but it can also highlight trends that might allow you to stop problems before they start. For example, you or your doctor might notice your blood pressure and/or blood glucose is slowly creeping up each year. At this point, simple lifestyle changes might prevent problems from ever occurring.
Manage Comorbid Problems
Your risk of vascular disease is also affected by a wide range of other health problems. For example, you might not think about the relationship between your blood vessel health and dental needs. Taking care of your oral hygiene in addition to regular dental visits can catch early periodontal disease and possibly reverse the problem. There is a strong relationship between dental problems and vascular disease. Additionally, if you have any autoimmune conditions, your risk of vascular disease also increases. Chronic, systemic inflammation has a destructive effect throughout your body. Make sure your primary care doctor is involved in the management of your autoimmune disease, in addition to any specialists. New, bothersome symptoms or inadequate symptom management should be mentioned to both your primary care doctor and specialists.
See What Tests Are Available
Talk with your primary care doctor about any tests available to help diagnose vascular disease, especially in the earlier stages. If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with vascular disease or have a strong family history, such as early heart attacks or stroke, testing is even more important. Your doctor might recommend seeing a cardiologist for a stress test or EKG if you have symptoms consistent with heart disease. Ultrasound can be useful if you have pain in your legs that might indicate formation of a blood clot or peripheral artery disease. Similarly, ultrasound can be used to visualize the blood vessels leading to the brain to make sure blood flow is normal.
Focus On Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes are among the most important ways to reduce your risk of vascular disease. Your doctor can generally guide you on which changes you need to make to stay healthy longer. The two most important lifestyle changes are shedding excess weight and quitting smoking. Even slow, consistent weight loss can improve your vascular health, especially when combined with a heart-healthy diet and regular cardiovascular exercise. The goal is to avoid eating many of the foods that contribute to vascular disease, such as diets high in saturated fat and processed foods. Although weight-training is important for building strength and can make losing weight easier, cardio is still important to improve heart function.
Smoking is a common, controllable risk factor associated with vascular disease. Unfortunately, quitting can be one of the hardest changes to make. Generally, the people who are most successful at quitting make a plan. This means utilizing different resources that might be available to help make quitting more manageable. Your doctor can recommend medications, especially if previous attempts at quitting were unsuccessful. Additionally, if you deal with any emotional concerns, this is a good time to ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Try joining online or in-person smoking cessation classes or communities and whenever possible, find support from family and friends.
Vascular disease is among the most common chronic conditions and can cause irreparable damage. Reducing your risk factors now can minimize the chance of serious consequences later.