Atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening of the arteries,” is a serious medical condition in which plaque builds up on the walls of blood vessels.
Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attack, stroke, and death. It is a silent killer because many people do not know they have it until it is too late. In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment of atherosclerosis.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up on the walls of blood vessels. This plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. Over time, the plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, restricting blood flow to organs and tissues. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that has no symptoms in its early stages. This makes it difficult to detect and diagnose. The only way to know if you have atherosclerosis is to get a medical exam.
Arteries in the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis, and kidneys are all susceptible to atherosclerosis. It has various names based on which arteries are affected.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of atherosclerosis. It occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can lead to chest pain (angina), heart attack, or heart failure.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is another type of atherosclerosis. It occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet, but it can also build up in your arms or pelvis. This can lead to pain, cramping, numbness, and ulcers in the legs and feet.
- Carotid artery disease (CAD) is another type of atherosclerosis. It occurs when plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the head and neck. This can lead to stroke.
- Renal artery disease (RAD) is another type of atherosclerosis. It occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys. This can lead to kidney failure.
- Atherosclerosis can also lead to aneurysms. An aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in the blood vessel wall. Aneurysms can rupture and cause life-threatening bleeding.
What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?
The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. If the arteries that supply blood to your heart are affected, you may experience chest pain or angina. If the arteries that supply blood to your brain are affected, you may experience a stroke.
What causes atherosclerosis?
The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown. However, several risk factors can increase your chances of developing the condition. These include:
- Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop atherosclerosis.
- Family history of atherosclerosis or cardiovascular disease: If your parents or grandparents had atherosclerosis, you are more likely to develop it.
- Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop atherosclerosis.
- Race: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are more likely to develop atherosclerosis.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis.
- High cholesterol: High cholesterol can clog the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes: Diabetes damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of atherosclerosis.
- Smoking is a major risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing) in the aorta, coronary arteries, and arteries in the legs. Smoking causes fatty deposits to accumulate more readily and speeds up plaque growth.
How is atherosclerosis diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have atherosclerosis, they will order a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. They may also order an angiogram. This is a special X-ray that shows how well blood is flowing through your arteries.
How is atherosclerosis treated?
There is no cure for atherosclerosis. However, treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. Treatment options include:
1. Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar.
2. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove plaque from the arteries or repair damaged arteries.
- Atherectomy: This is a procedure to remove plaque from the blocked arteries.
- Angioplasty: This is a procedure to widen narrowed or blocked arteries.
- Stenting: This is a procedure to prop open arteries. The blocked section is opened by a tiny mesh coil that has been placed inside the obstructed artery to keep it open.
- Coronary artery bypass: In bypass surgery, the surgeon creates an alternative route for blood to flow around a blocked coronary artery. This surgery is frequently done on individuals who have angina (chest discomfort) due to coronary artery illness (when plaque builds up in the arteries). During the surgery, a section of veins or arteries is taken from another part of the body and used to create a “bypass” around the blocked artery.
3. Lifestyle changes: Making healthy lifestyle choices can help slow the progression of atherosclerosis. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and managing stress. Making lifestyle changes is the best way to prevent or slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
If you think you may have atherosclerosis, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Atherosclerosis is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications.
What are the complications of atherosclerosis?
The complications of atherosclerosis include heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, blood clots, and death. If the arteries that supply blood to your heart are affected, you may experience a heart attack. If the arteries that supply blood to your brain are affected, you may experience a stroke. Atherosclerosis can also lead to death.
Atherosclerosis is a preventable condition. You can reduce your risk by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. You should also avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. If you have atherosclerosis, it is important to take your medication as prescribed and follow your doctor’s instructions.