Although you can’t avoid all of the risk factors of an aneurysm, eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding certain triggers can go a long way toward preventing an aneurysm. Learn how in this article.
1. Make Healthy Choices in Your Diet
Diets high in calories, saturated and trans fats, and sodium can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis (fatty deposits that clog arteries), and obesity, all of which are risk factors for aneurysms. (1,2)
Luckily, all of these health outcomes are tied in some way to diet, so you can modify your eating habits to help offset your risk of an aneurysm. Here are some ways to do so: (3)
- Choose fresh, whole foods over processed, packaged snacks, like cake, cookies, and candy.
- Limit fatty cuts of meat, such as brisket, T-bone steak, and beef ribs.
- Eat fried and fast food only in moderation.
- Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy in lieu of full-fat dairy.
- Reach for whole grains and complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice or whole-grain bread, rather than refined, white carbohydrates, like white rice or white bread.
- Avoid or limit sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda, fruit juice, and energy drinks.
- Use heart-healthy oil, like olive, over coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil.
If you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, consider the DASH diet, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends for boosting heart health. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, and the approach can also help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and weight. The diet focuses on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. Also, it calls for limiting sodium to between 1,500 milligrams and 2,300 milligrams per day. (3)
Research suggests fruits like apples, pears, bananas, and oranges may also prevent aneurysms. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Circulation, people who ate two servings or more of fruit a day were 25 percent less likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm and 43 percent less likely to have a rupture than those who ate less than once piece of fruit a day. (4)
2. Keep Your Blood Pressure Levels in Check
Hypertension is a risk factor for aneurysms. In November 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and nine other health organizations lowered the guidelines for the diagnosis of hypertension — or high blood pressure — from to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) to 120/80 mm Hg. With the new parameters, about 46 percent of Americans are considered to have high blood pressure. (5)
Find your blood pressure numbers with an at-home blood pressure monitor, and make lifestyle changes to manage or lower it. These include eating a healthy, low-sodium diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. The CDC recommends men limit alcohol to two drinks or less a day, and women limit it to one drink or less a day. One drink is one 12-ounce (oz) beer, 8 oz of malt liquor, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits. (6)
Make sure you take any medication for high blood pressure as prescribed, work with your doctor to overcome barriers to healthy living, and find out about community programs that may help. (7)
3. Lower High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to build cells, but high cholesterol, which is defined as a level above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), can lead to arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. (8,9) People who develop abdominal aortic aneurysms, for example, often have high cholesterol, but it’s unclear whether aneurysms are caused by high cholesterol or due to common risk factors. (10)
8 Ways to Raise Good Cholesterol Levels
Fortunately, you can modify your diet to lower bad cholesterol and raise HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. To lower bad cholesterol, limit saturated and trans fats, and to help promote good cholesterol, eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows these foods also help reduce triglycerides. (11,12)
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include: (13,14)
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, and sardines
- Nuts and seeds, like walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds
- Plant oils, like flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
- Fortified foods, like eggs, yogurt, and milk
- Wild rice
Since foods high in soluble fiber bind to cholesterol and eliminate them from the body before they’re absorbed, they can help lower bad cholesterol. (15)
Foods high in soluble fiber include:
- Oat bran
If your doctor has prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication, take it as prescribed while making lifestyle changes. According to an observational study published in the journal Stroke, people diagnosed with one or more brain aneurysms who had higher levels of good cholesterol or who were taking cholesterol-lowering statins were less likely to have their brain aneurysms rupture. (16)
4. Make Exercise a Part of Your Routine
It’s no surprise that most Americans don’t get enough exercise, but a regular exercise program can lower your blood pressure and triglycerides, raise good cholesterol, and, in combination with a healthy diet, help you lose weight. (17,18)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking fast or riding a bike on a flat road, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running or swimming laps, each week. The more exercise you get in, the more benefit you’ll see. (19,20)
What Counts as Aerobic Exercise? What to Know
Be sure to include both aerobic activities, like walking, running, and swimming, and strength-training exercises that target all the major muscle groups. (19)
If you have been diagnosed with an aneurysm, chances are your doctor will recommend avoiding vigorous exercise and strenuous activity, so talk to him or her about a low-impact program that can help. Research shows exercise can aid in aneurysm management: According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who had small abdominal aortic aneurysms and participated in a cardiac rehabilitation exercise program reduced the risk of their aneurysms expanding and were less likely to need surgery to repair the aneurysm, compared with people diagnosed with an aneurysm who did not follow the program. (21)
5. Take Steps to Reduce and Manage Stress Well
The link between stress and high blood pressure is unclear, but when you’re under stress, your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that causes your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to increase. Also, stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors, like drinking alcohol, which can increase blood pressure. (22)
It’s important to avoid strong emotions, like getting upset or angry, because they can cause aneurysms to rupture. (23) Although daily stressors are unavoidable, how you react to them can make a world of difference.
There are several ways to reduce stress. Some include: (24,25,26)
- Mindfulness techniques
- Time management
- Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation
- Time with family and friends
- Taking up a hobby
- Practicing gratitude
- Being realistic about your time and saying “no” more
6. Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If you snore or wake up tired after sleeping all night, you might have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious medical condition that affects more than 18 million people in the United States and can raise your blood pressure. (27,28)
Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with the progression of thoracic aortic and abdominal aortic aneurysms, and can lead to poor outcomes for those with brain aneurysms. A study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery found brain aneurysms that rupture or result in vasospasm are a result of uncontrolled obstructive sleep apnea. (29)
If your doctor suspects you have sleep apnea, he or she will order a sleep study in a sleep lab or at home, and may suggest you lose weight, wear a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, or undergo surgery. (27)
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking is a significant risk factor for the formation and rupture of brain and aortic aneurysms, but quitting can go a long way in reducing your risk.
According to a study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, smokers over age 45 had an about 1 in 9 chance of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm in their lifetime, but if they quit during the study period, their risk declined by 29 percent compared with those who continued to smoke. (31)
The Best and Worst Ways to Quit Smoking
To help you kick the habit, consider using over-the-counter stop-smoking products, like nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges, or ask your doctor to recommend a prescription medication and smoking cessation program.
Secondhand smoke can do the same damage to your blood vessels as actively smoking so avoid places where secondhand smoke is allowed and ask family and friends not to smoke in your home or car. (32)
8. Avoid Drugs
Recreational drugs like cocaine should be avoided because they damage the blood vessels. According to a study published in the journal Stroke, cocaine users who experienced a subarachnoid hemorrhage were less likely than nonusers to survive hospitalization. (33)
9. Talk To Your Doctor About Screening Tests
If you have a personal or family history of aneurysms, be sure to let your primary care physician know. Also, be sure to report any symptoms to him or her immediately.
If you have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor may recommend you have regular computerized tomography (CT) scans because there is an association between COPD and aortic abdominal aneurysms. According to a study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease, 27 percent of people with COPD who underwent a CT scan were diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. (34)
10. Know the Signs of an Aneurysm
Although aneurysms can occur without warning, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. If you experience pain, sharp or dull, or unexplained symptoms, don’t chance it. Call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. (2)
11. Stick With Your Treatment Plan
If you have been diagnosed with an aneurysm or suffered a rupture or dissection, it’s important to stay up to date on important screenings, take all medication as prescribed, and work with your doctor to lower your risk factors to avoid a recurrence.