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Healthy Balance

Rocky Icon Falls to Heart Disease: What We Can Learn From Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers

It's hard to imagine the world of film and television without Carl Weathers. His career spanned 5 decades. It included his iconic role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, and in recent years, an Emmy nomination for The Mandalorian. Sadly, Weathers passed away on Feb. 2, 2024. His final bout was a long battle with heart disease. The exact cause was given as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). Learn what ASCVD is and why we all need to know about it.

"We used to think we waited until our 40s to start managing high cholesterol with medications. Now we know this impacts you much earlier in life."

C. Michael Valentine, MD

What Is Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease?

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is widespread in America. It's the #1 cause of death among adults in the U.S. It impacts more Black people than any other racial group. Almost 60% of Black men and women have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to the American Heart Association.

With atherosclerosis, this means you have a build-up of a sticky substance, known as plaque, on the walls of the blood vessels (arteries) that feed your vital organs. It's the culprit behind the most common types of heart disease. Eventually, atherosclerosis can block blood flow to the heart and brain. This can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or sudden death.

But there's good news, shares C. Michael Valentine, MD, a UVA Health cardiologist (heart disease expert).

"Many types of heart disease can be prevented. This includes common ones like coronary artery disease, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation," Valentine says.

How to Prevent Atherosclerosis

Plaque often starts to build up in our arteries during childhood and gets worse as we age. Some of the main causes are:

The good news is that most of us can prevent atherosclerosis or keep it from getting worse with a heart-healthy lifestyle. There's no better time to start than during American Heart Month.

Keep Your Arteries Clear with These Key Steps

Find a Heart Disease Expert

Get help managing your coronary artery disease from UVA Health experts.

And work with a primary care provider to keep your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels at healthy levels.

"It's important to work with your primary care provider to manage these risk factors for heart disease," Valentine says.

And start young, he adds.

"We used to think we waited until our 40s to start managing high cholesterol with medications. Now we know this impacts you much earlier in life. So it's important to work with a primary care provider to manage cholesterol at a younger age to prevent heart disease."

Watch for Signs of Atherosclerosis

Most people don't know they have atherosclerosis. In the earlier stages, heart disease doesn't show any symptoms. But if you start having chest pain, often the first sign of atherosclerosis, you'll want to get screened by UVA heart and vascular health experts. Learn how we diagnose and treat atherosclerosis.

Carl Weathers' Final Bout With Heart Disease

Weathers was 76 when he died from heart disease. I knew he suffered from severe back pain but I never realized he struggled with heart disease. His family shared he passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Featured after his death in a Super Bowl ad, Weathers seemed like he still had many years to entertain us. But sadly, heart disease was a battle even someone who symbolized strength couldn't win.

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