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The Truth About Coronary Plaque
By Dr. Chetan Pungoti

Most of us donít realize that even though our cholesterol levels may be within the normal range, we may still be developing coronary plaque that could lead to a future heart attack. However, if we lead healthy, active lifestyles and pay attention to risk factors, coronary plaque that has developed can often be stabilized and possibly reversed.

Coronary plaque is a thick, hard deposit that can form in the bodyís arteries, narrowing the space for blood to flow to the heart. Over time, this buildup can cause hardening of the arteries leading to heart disease, chest pain, stroke or even total blockage of an artery that can result in a heart attack. Symptoms such as trouble breathing or pain in the legs when walking can indicate the buildup of coronary plaque.

Stress tests, a standard test used by cardiologists, are only effective in identifying coronary plaque if a patient has a significant arterial blockage (70 percent or greater). This means itís possible to have a normal stress test result even though plaque is present. Cardiac CT scans can be used to evaluate the presence of mild plaque and can help doctors decide how aggressively to treat other factors that contribute to the buildup of plaque, including high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure. If you think you are at risk, speak with your physician about designing your own healthy lifestyle plan.

Itís never too late to take steps toward a healthier, happier future ó and youíre in control. Changes in lifestyle can improve the quality of your health and lifespan. Improving your heart health requires some hard work, but even simple lifestyle changes can prevent the need for medications in the future. In many cases, patients diagnosed with coronary plaque have been able to stabilize and even cause a regression of the plaque by getting their risk factors under control with the support of their physician.

The number one thing you can do to prevent coronary plaque is lead an active lifestyle and exercise regularly. Forty-five minutes of exercise three to four times a week is a good start. In addition, wise food choices, keeping in mind portion sizes and the quality of foods, will have a significant impact.

With just a little hard work and attention to detail, lifestyle changes you make today can prevent many health challenges and will help you achieve a heart-healthy future.

Dr. Chetan Pungoti of Summit Cardiology is a board-certified internist with specialty training in echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, diagnostic cardiac catheterization, cardiac CT and vascular ultrasound.

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