The main treatment for subclavian artery disease involves medical therapy and lifestyle changes. As subclavian artery blockages are usually caused from atherosclerosis, your health care professional may prescribe aspirin and cholesterol-lowering medications. These medicines can prevent the plaque buildup from getting worse over time.
At the same time, it is important to target other factors that can lead to plaque buildup. Smoking, or any nicotine use, should be stopped. If you smoke, quit. Controlling blood pressure and diabetes is important as well because both of these conditions are strongly linked to the risk of building up plaque. Following a heart-healthy diet and taking part in a regular exercise program are also very good habits to pick up.
Despite these treatments, many people with subclavian artery disease will experience symptoms such as arm fatigue, arm pain, or dizziness. In these instances, your health care professional may recommend treating the blockages with either angioplasty using stents or surgery. Stenting is a nonsurgical, less invasive technique that involves inserting a small tube called a catheter through an artery in the arm or leg. Through the catheter, a stent is placed across the blockage to restore normal flow.
Most subclavian blockages can be treated with stents, but in some cases, surgery may be needed. With surgery, blood flow is rerouted across the blockage using a small plastic tube called a bypass graft. Both stents and surgery are highly effective treatments and often help symptoms improve.
You can reduce your risk of subclavian artery disease caused by atherosclerosis by keeping your blood vessels healthy. It is important to pay attention to the factors that contribute to the disease. Modifiable risk factors—in other words the risk factors that can be controlled—to prevent subclavian artery disease include:
- Tobacco use: If you smoke tobacco, please consult with your health care provider about ways to quit. Use of any tobacco product increases your blood pressure and promotes the formation of plaques within the blood vessels. There are many aids, and even apps, now available to help you quit.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Be active and maintain a healthy weight. In general, individuals should take part in at least 30 minutes of moderate-level aerobic exercise per day at least five days per week.
- Diabetes: If you are unsure whether you have diabetes, speak with your provider about how to be screened. And, if you have diabetes, it is important to take steps to control your blood sugar by ensuring that your hemoglobin A1c is <7%. Elevated blood sugars over time can damage the inside of your blood vessels and lead to atherosclerosis.
- High cholesterol: Consult with your doctor to find out whether you need a lipid (cholesterol) panel. If you don’t reach your goal cholesterol number despite eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, your doctor may prescribe lipid-lowering medicine, such as statins.
- Unhealthy diet: A healthy diet is an effective means of preventing atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases. This includes: three to five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day; two servings of fish high in omega-3-fatty acids per week; four handfuls of almonds and/or walnuts per week; use of healthy oils like olive and canola; and picking whole grains over refined.
Living With Subclavian Artery Disease
If you have subclavian artery disease, you may experience weakness or pain in your arm on the affected side, dizziness, or blurred or double vision.
As atherosclerosis can develop in any of the arteries of the body, individuals living with subclavian artery disease should look out for symptoms of shortness of breath or chest pain when being active because this may be a sign of coronary artery disease. If your walking is limited because of leg fatigue, cramping or pain, it may be because of peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you develop these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
If your doctor has decided to monitor the disease, you should tell him or her if you have any worsening or new symptoms. Also your health care professional may check your blood pressure in both arms and conduct ultrasound tests routinely to watch the narrowing in your arteries. These tests would also be done if you have an angioplasty or surgery.