Published on: August 17, 2009
by Dr. Kaycee Sink for Everyday Health:
Yes, atherosclerosis, or thickening of the artery walls, is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and for vascular dementia.
Atherosclerosis occurs in blood vessels all over the body, but we usually think about it being a condition of the heart and legs. In both cases it reduces the amount of blood flow to the tissues and therefore the amount of oxygen they get. If a blood vessel in the heart gets completely blocked, it results in a heart attack, which is the heart muscle dying from lack of oxygen.
When the same process happens in the brain it is called a stroke. But even if someone doesn’t have a stroke, atherosclerosis in the brain can contribute to dementia.
We can all help lower our risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia by doing things that keep our heart and blood vessels healthy, such as eating a low fat, healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and controlling high blood pressure and diabetes.
When atherosclerosis is present, aspirin (a blood thinner) has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks. However, experts don’t yet know if aspirin can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.
As for other blood thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or Plavix (clopidogrel), there is no evidence that these should be used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in patients with atherosclerosis.
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