Intense exercise may increase the risk of stroke in millions of Americans

Intense exercise can increase the risk of stroke in millions of Americans with a condition known as carotid artery stenosis. This disease is characterized by the formation of plaques in the carotid arteries, which are responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain and parts of the face. Plaque buildup can narrow these arteries, impairing their function and increasing the risk of stroke.

Strenuous exercise can dislodge plaque in large arteries, which then travels to the brain and clogs the blood vessel, leading to stroke, researchers say. The results of the study, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, showed that for those who had severe blockages, the results were characterized as “alarming.”

Carotid artery stenosis is an increasingly common condition. The Cleveland Clinic reports that about 16.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, about five percent of all adults in the country. Risk factors for carotid artery stenosis include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes and smoking.

Intense exercise can be dangerous for those who suffer from carotid artery stenosis. Therefore, sufferers may need to reconsider the intensity of their exercise to reduce their risk of stroke.

What the study showed

The study was conducted by creating a computer simulation of the carotid artery. Three different carotid arteries were simulated, representing a healthy artery, one with a “mild” 30 percent blockage, and one with a “severe” 50 percent blockage.

Each model was then exposed to different heart rates corresponding to different levels of physical activity, including rest (67 beats per minute), moderate exercise (100 beats per minute), and vigorous exercise (140 beats per minute).

Simulations demonstrated increased stress on a severely blocked area, increasing the risk of rupture and subsequent displacement of the plaque into the bloodstream. This displaced plaque can then enter the brain, block a blood vessel and cause a stroke.

What to do if you have carotid artery stenosis

People who suffer from carotid artery stenosis should reconsider the intensity of their exercise. Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or vigorous exercise, can pose a serious threat to these people.

Risk factors for carotid artery stenosis, such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes and smoking, should be addressed. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of stroke.

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