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Atherosclerosis

Overview

Atherosclerosis which is also known as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or arteriosclerosis occurs when the arteries in the body become narrow and hard due to the build-up of plaque in them. The build-up would occur because of the fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. This hardening of arteries can lead to a total blockage of blood flow. Atherosclerosis can affect multiple parts of your body like the heart, legs, brain, kidneys, and other organs. 

Atherosclerosis leads to other very serious medical concerns like the heart attack, and peripheral vascular disease (PVD). The severity of atherosclerosis progress varies from person to person and depends on multiple factors including which arteries the plaque has formed and the person’s overall health.

The prevalence of this disease is such that atherosclerosis is the underlying cause for about 50% of deaths in westernized society. Coronary heart disease (which is caused by atherosclerosis) is the leading cause of death in America and accounts for approximately 13% of deaths in the United States alone.

Causes

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood around the body from the heart which are lined with a thin protective layer known as the endothelium. The endothelial cells make sure the arteries stay in shape and maintain a good blood flow throughout the body. Atherosclerosis causes occurs when the endothelium damages due to some health issues and concerns like:

  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of cholesterol 
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Inflammation
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of physical activity

Symptoms

Atherosclerosis is mostly an asymptomatic condition and the exhibited signs of the disease are often overlooked as people confuse them with other diseases or they do not pay much attention to it until it’s too late. 

There are types of arteriosclerotic heart disease and the symptoms of each type slightly vary. The signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which vessel or artery it occurs in.

Coronary Arteries (Atherosclerosis of Aorta):

  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Pain in the upper body
  • Shortness of breath

Carotid Arteries:

Renal Arteries:

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Numbness in the hands and feet

Peripheral Arteries:

  • Numbness in the lower body
  • Leg pain while walking

Diagnosis

Your preventive care physician will start with a physical exam for atherosclerosis diagnosis whether or not you suffer from the condition. He/She will listen to your arteries and check if you have any weak or absent pulses caused by the hardening of arteries. The physician will also ask questions about your eating habits and whether you smoke or not, to consequently suggest you a few tests and scans

These tests and scans may include the following:

  • Angiogram: The doctor will put colored dye into the arteries so they’ll be visible on an X-ray, to figure out which of these arteries are blocked. 
  • Ankle-brachial index: This test is used to check the blood pressure of your feetChest Xray to see and look for symptoms of heart failure. 
  • Blood tests: To check cholesterol levels. 
  • CT scan or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)  
  • Electrocardiogram 
  • Stress test

Your preventive care physician will then recommend you to a specialist depending on the severity of atherosclerosis.

Treatment

Atherosclerosis can be a life-threatening problem but it can be treated via one of the three following atherosclerosis treatment methods:

 

  • Lifestyle Changes: The physician may ask you to quit smoking or change your eating habits. Even though the changes won’t lessen the blockage it may significantly help in reducing the chance of stroke or heart attack. 
  • Medications: Drugs used to treat high levels of cholesterol or hypertension will slow and may even halt atherosclerosis. 
  • Surgery: Surgeries may include bypass surgery of the affected area, stent to widen the artery, and surgery to remove plaque buildup.

When To See A Doctor

Atherosclerosis can be a severely life-threatening condition that may lead to stroke or heart failure. If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms or have a family history of artery blockage consult your preventive cardiologist immediately.

Disclaimer

This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have concerns about atherosclerosis or any other medical condition, please see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment suggestions.

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