What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a condition wherein fatty deposits called plaque start to build up in the blood vessels, especially the arteries, causing them to harden. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart out to the body, and when atherosclerosis happens, blood flow to certain parts of the body will get restricted, and make it difficult for the affected organs to function well.
This can cause symptoms in the part of the body that is not getting enough blood. Atherosclerosis is the reason most people have a heart attack or stroke.
Blood clots can also form as a result of atherosclerosis, and can potentially block the flow of blood completely. This can cause even more severe damage to occur.
When atherosclerosis is left untreated, it has the potential to cause heart attacks or even a stroke if it affects either a person’s heart or the brain. By knowing what is atherosclerosis, what it’s causes are, and what steps can be taken to prevent it, we can avoid this life-threatening condition.
Signs and Symptoms
Now that we know what is atherosclerosis, we will be discussing the potential symptoms of this condition.
The symptoms of atherosclerosis can manifest in different ways, depending on which parts of the body are affected. Sometimes, there aren’t even any overt symptoms at all.
Here are some of the possible symptoms of atherosclerosis:
If you have atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, or the arteries connected to the heart:
- You might feel pain in your chest, called angina.
- Arrhythmia, or the presence of an abnormal heartbeat is another symptom.
- You might also experience shortness of breath along with the symptoms above.
- Blockage in these arteries can have the potential to cause a heart attack.
If you have atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries, or arteries connected to the brain:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Numbness in the face or hands
- Feelings of confusion
- Severe headaches
- Breathing problems can also be a symptom
- Blockage in these arteries can potentially cause a stroke
If you have atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries, or the arteries connected to your arms, legs, and pelvis:
- Numbness and pain in the arms or legs
- Cramps can also be a sign of atherosclerosis
- Bluish or pale skin in the arms or legs
- Weakness in the arms or legs, especially after exercise
If you have atherosclerosis in the renal arteries, or the arteries responsible for distributing blood to your kidneys:
- Feelings of fatigue or tiredness
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in the frequency of urination
- High Blood Pressure
- Kidney disease from blockage in these arteries
When should I see my doctor?
As soon as you experience any of the symptoms above, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor about it. This is especially true for those who have been diagnosed with hypertension or high blood pressure, or those who have a family history of hypertension.
In some cases, some people don’t even experience any symptoms until it’s too late. Which is why it’s very important to have a yearly checkup in order to keep track of your health.
Causes and Risk Factors
Atherosclerosis starts as the buildup of plaque or cholesterol and other fatty deposits inside the blood vessels. Over time, the plaque builds up, causing the blood vessels to become narrower until blood flow to certain parts of the body get severely restricted or even blocked completely.
The process can start in childhood, and affect a person in their 30s. However, it can also start much later, such as when a person is in their 50s or 60s as it is normal for arteries to harden as a person grows older.
What increases my risk of atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis can progress very slowly, and in some cases, you might not even realize that you already have the condition until it’s too late.
In order to lower the risk of having atherosclerosis, it is important to be aware of the risk factors. Here are some of the things than can potentially increase the risk of atherosclerosis:
- High cholesterol or triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) — the most significant risk factor for atherosclerosis
- Having an unhealthy diet that’s high in fat
- Lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Having a mother or father who had atherosclerosis before the age of 50
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of atherosclerosis such as numbness, difficulty breathing, or a pain in your chest, talk to your doctor in order to see if there are any problems with your circulation.
Your doctor will not typically order tests to check for atherosclerosis. Instead, they will order tests if they think you have a specific form of atherosclerosis, such as coronary heart disease or peripheral artery disease. A test called a “lipid profile” is often done to measure the amounts of different kinds of fat and cholesterol in the blood.
Additionally, your doctor might also ask you to undergo the following tests:
- Angiogram, or a type of X-ray used to look at your blood vessels.
- A type of ultrasound called a doppler ultrasound which checks the blood flow in your blood vessels.
- Your doctor will also check your blood pressure, as well as conduct a physical exam in order to look for any symptoms of atherosclerosis.
If your doctor sees any problems, then they will be recommending different forms of treatment in order to stop atherosclerosis from getting worse.
How is atherosclerosis treated?
There are no cures for atherosclerosis. If a person gets diagnosed with this condition, then it is important to take steps in order to minimize the risk and prevent it from getting worse.
Here are some forms of treatment:
- If you are suffering from high cholesterol, medication to lower the cholesterol levels in the body might be prescribed.
- For those suffering from hypertension, blood pressure medication will be prescribed by your doctor.
- Aspirin or clopidogrel might be also used in order to prevent blood clots.
- In some cases, surgery might be required in order to widen or completely bypass certain arteries.
This is why it’s important to take steps in order to lower the risk of atherosclerosis, since it’s impossible to reverse it once it has already started.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
Here are some things that you can do in order to lower the risk or completely prevent atherosclerosis:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fats, cholesterol, and sugar.
- Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily.
- If you are a smoker, it would be best to quit smoking as soon as possible, as smoking puts you at risk of suffering from atherosclerosis.
- If you are obese or overweight, it would be a good idea to aim for a body mass index or BMI. of 18.5 to 24.9.
- Alcohol can also contribute to atherosclerosis, so it would be best to minimize your drinking, or quit entirely.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.