Ways of treating cardiovascular disease

Drugs and surgery can help to control cardiovascular diseases, but so can lifestyle choices.

Lifestyle choices

The chance of developing cardiovascular disease can be reduced by the following lifestyle habits:

  • not smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a diet low in saturated fat

Statins

Statins are drugs that help to lower cholesterol in the blood. They do this by lowering its production in the liver.

Statins are prescribed for people with heart disease or who have a high risk of developing it. The drugs need to be taken long-term. Cholesterol levels will rise again if a person stops taking them.

Some studies have raised concerns regarding the side effects of statin use, while others believe they can bring additional positive benefits. Some patients taking statins often experience side-effects such as headaches and memory loss. There have been reports of statins being linked with Type 2 diabetes and liver damage.

Other people argue that statins should be used more widely. They may protect against other conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, but further research is needed.

Statins are not suitable for everyone – they should not be prescribed for people with liver disease, or pregnant or breast feeding women.

Stents

Coronary arteries that are blocked or have become narrow can be stretched open and a stent inserted to restore and maintain blood flow.

Diagram illustrating how stents work inside arteries

Stents can be used in instances where drugs are less effective, and offer a 'longer term' solution. Stents are made from metal alloys and do not lead to an immune response in the patient.

Around 75,000 operations are carried out each year. Risk factors depend on the patient's:

  • age
  • general health
  • whether they have had a heart attack

The operation is safe as it does not involve surgery, but there is a risk of bleeding, heart attack or stroke.

Coronary artery bypass surgery

A diagram of the heart, showing the vena cava and the aorta

In some cases the blockage cannot be treated using a stent so another surgical procedure called a coronary artery bypass graft, or heart bypass, is used instead.

This involves taking a blood vessel from another part of the body, usually the chest, leg or arm, and attaching it to the coronary artery above and below the narrowing or blockage. This new section of blood vessel is called a graft.