Atherosclerosis is a disease that is slowly progressive. In some people, its onset is as early as in childhood. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but many experts believe Atherosclerosis begins when the innermost layer of an artery is damaged or injured. The damage to the artery may be due to the following:
- Increased levels of cholesterol in the blood. This is often related to saturated fats and cholesterol in the diet
- High blood pressure
- Elevated triglycerides. This is another type of fat in the bloodstream
- Smoking and also smokeless tobacco
- Inflammation due to medical conditions like Lupus or Arthritis, due to infections or inflammation due to unknown factors
When the inside wall of an artery is injured, blood cells and other materials in the bloodstream tend to gather in clumps at the site of the injury. They build up the inside lining of the artery. Over time, cholesterol plaques and other substances also gather at the same site and become hard. This makes the inside diameter of the artery narrows. Circulation slows and the organs that depend on the artery for blood and oxygen don’t get enough blood to function in the proper way.
Eventually, small pieces of the deposits may dislodge and enter the bloodstream. If the smooth lining of plaque ruptures, cholesterol, and other substances are spilled into your bloodstream. A blood clot can then form, blocking the flow of blood to part of the body of what causes Atherosclerosis. Blood clots can also travel in the bloodstream and block the flow of blood to another organ, depending on where they lodge.
What causes Atherosclerosis is unknown exactly, but it is a condition that occurs when arteries thicken and become stiff. Arteries are blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen from the heart to the rest of the body. They are normally elastic and flexible, allowing blood to flow freely. When they become thick and hard, the flow of blood to the tissues and organs can be restricted. Atherosclerosis is sometimes called hardening of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis. In Atherosclerosis, the flow of blood through the arteries is restricted by the buildup of cholesterol, fats and other substances which form in or on the walls of the artery. The buildup of these substances is sometimes called plaques and a reason for what causes Atherosclerosis Plaques can break away or burst from an artery and trigger the formation of a blood clot.
Atherosclerosis is generally thought to be a problem with the arteries of the heart, but any of the arteries in the body can develop plaques. Atherosclerosis is usually treatable and it also preventable, so what causes Atherosclerosis is unpredictable as well.
Atherosclerosis develops gradually with aging. Factors that increase the risk for hardening of the arteries, in addition to aging include:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes increases the risk for atherosclerosis
- Smoking and the use of other tobacco products
- A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for atherosclerosis
- A family history of early-onset heart disease can cause atherosclerosis in an individual
Results of what causes Atherosclerosis can be in various complications, depending on which arteries are affected. For instance:
- Coronary artery disease: If Atherosclerosis causes narrowing of the arteries located close to the heart, coronary artery disease may develop. This can cause angina (chest pain), heart failure, or a heart attack.
- Carotid artery disease: If Atherosclerosis causes narrowing of the arteries located close to the brain, carotid artery disease may develop. This can cause a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or a stroke.
- Peripheral artery disease: If Atherosclerosis causes narrowing of the arteries of the legs or arms, peripheral artery disease may develop. This is characterized by circulation problems in the extremities. It makes the affected areas less sensitive to cold and heat which increases the risk of injuries. In severe cases, it causes the tissues to die (necrosis or gangrene).
- Aneurysms: This is a serious complication caused by Atherosclerosis. Aneurysms, which are a bulging out of the wall of an artery, can develop anywhere in the body. They usually do not produce symptoms until they burst and this is a medical emergency due to internal bleeding. Ruptured aneurysms cause pain and a throbbing sensation. Sometimes aneurysms can leak slowly, and sometimes a clot from inside an aneurysm breaks away and causes an obstruction elsewhere in the body.
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Atherosclerosis – Symptoms
Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops slowly over time. People who have mild Atherosclerosis typically don’t have any signs or symptoms.
The signs and symptoms of Atherosclerosis usually don’t appear until an artery is so constricted that adequate amounts of blood can no longer reach the tissues or organs. A blood clot can sometimes block the flow of blood completely or can cause a stroke or a heart attack.
The signs and symptoms of Atherosclerosis that is moderate to severe depending on which arteries of the body are affected. For instance:
- Atherosclerosis of the arteries in the heart: Symptoms may include pain or pressure in the chest.
- Atherosclerosis of the arteries that lead to the brain: Symptoms may include sudden weakness in the legs or arms, trouble talking or drooping of one side of your face. This can point to a TIA or transient ischemic attack or eventually to a stroke if untreated.
- Atherosclerosis of the arteries in the legs or arms: Symptoms may include those of peripheral artery disease, like a pain in the legs with walking
- Atherosclerosis of the arteries that lead to the kidneys: This can cause kidney failure of high blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis of the arteries that lead to the genitals: Symptoms may include sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction in men and decreased blood flow to the vagina in women.
When to see a doctor
If you have symptoms of Atherosclerosis, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. Don’t ignore your symptoms that indicate poor circulation such as angina, numbness in the extremities or leg pain. Early treatment can help prevent Atherosclerosis from progressing and can decrease your risk of a stroke, heart attack or other serious complications. This can be achieved by conducting Atherosclerosis diagnosis first.
During a routine physical examination, your physician may find signs that indicate enlarged, hardened or narrowed arteries. Signs of Atherosclerosis may include:
- Weakened or absent pulses below the area of the artery that is narrowed can be detected by Atherosclerosis diagnosis.
- Lowered blood pressure in the limb that is affected by Atherosclerosis can be determined by Atherosclerosis diagnosis
- The presence of bruits. These are sounds like whooshing that can be heard with a stethoscope over arteries that have restricted blood flow
- A bulge that pulsates behind your knee or in your abdomen
- Signs of delayed wound healing in an area affected by Atherosclerosis and can be detected by Atherosclerosis diagnosis
If a physician suspects Atherosclerosis and depending on the physical examination, Atherosclerosis diagnosis may be recommended which include:
- Blood tests: Testing the blood can help determine if there are elevated levels of blood glucose or cholesterol, factors that increase the risk of Atherosclerosis. These are fasting tests for Atherosclerosis diagnosis, which means nothing other than water can be consumed for several hours prior to the test. You will be instructed how long you need to fast prior to the test.
- Doppler ultrasound: This test helps doctors to determine the blood pressure in the arteries of an arm or leg. Knowing the blood pressure can help determine the extent of any blockage due to Atherosclerosis and can also determine how fast the blood is flowing through the vessels.
- Ankle-brachial index: This Atherosclerosis diagnosis helps detect if Atherosclerosis is present in the arteries of the feet and legs, doctors sometimes compare the blood pressure in the arm with the blood pressure in the ankle. An abnormal difference in the two readings can be an indication of peripheral vascular disease, a condition typically caused by Atherosclerosis.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test for Atherosclerosis diagnosis records the electrical activity of the heart and can often tell if a previous heart attack has occurred. People whose symptoms of Atherosclerosis happen most of the time during activity may be asked to walk on a treadmill during this test.
- Stress test: This provides information about the activity of the heart during exercise or stress for Atherosclerosis diagnosis. It can reveal abnormalities that don’t show up in other circumstances because the heart works harder during exercise. If a person is unable to walk on a treadmill, they may be given a drug that will stress the heart in a way similar to exercise.
- Cardiac catheterization or angiogram: In this Atherosclerosis diagnosis, the dye is injected into the cardiac arteries through a tube inserted most often in the leg. The path of the dye is viewed on an X-ray and any blockage can be seen.
- Other imaging tests: Sometimes magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), computerized tomography (CT) scans or ultrasounds are used for Atherosclerosis diagnosis. These tests can also detect other problems with blood vessels like aneurysms.
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Atherosclerosis – Treatment
Doctors often recommend changes in lifestyle as one of the best Atherosclerosis treatment. These changes include exercise and eating a healthy diet. In addition, sometimes medication or surgery may be suggested to treat Atherosclerosis.
Certain medications can slow down the progression of Atherosclerosis, and in some cases, even reverse the condition. Some of the drugs commonly used to treat Atherosclerosis include:
- Cholesterol drugs: Decreasing the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is “bad” cholesterol, may slow down, stop or sometimes can even reverse the accumulation of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Increasing “good” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol may be beneficial, too. There are a wide variety of cholesterol medications available, including drugs known as fibrates and statins. Statins lower cholesterol as well as stabilize the lining of the arteries of the heart, and may help with Atherosclerosis treatment.
- Anti-platelets: These medications can prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together and forming clumps in the arteries. When platelets stick together, the likelihood of a blood clot increases. Aspirin is an example of an anti-platelet drug, and there are other prescription anti-platelet drugs physicians also recommend for patients who have Atherosclerosis as an Atherosclerosis treatment.
- Beta-blocker medications: These drugs are often prescribed for Atherosclerosis treatment. They lower blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn relieves the symptoms of angina (chest pain) by decreasing the demand on the heart. Beta blockers decrease the risk of heart attack and some types of problems with heart rhythm.
- ACE inhibitors: These are angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. They can also decrease the risk of heart attacks and may slow Atherosclerosis because they decrease the blood pressure and benefit the cardiac (heart) arteries and often used as an Atherosclerosis treatment.
- Calcium channel blockers: These drugs also help lower the blood pressure by decreasing the workload of the heart and they are sometimes prescribed for angina.
- Diuretics: These are often called “water pill.” They are used to treat high blood pressure for Atherosclerosis treatment, which is one of the main risk factors for Atherosclerosis.
- Other medications: If a patient has other medical conditions that increase their risk for Atherosclerosis, such as Diabetes, medications may be prescribed specifically for that condition. Drugs are also recommended to treat the symptoms of Atherosclerosis. For example, this may include drugs to treat leg pain that occurs during exercise due to Atherosclerosis.
If the symptoms of Atherosclerosis are severe, or if a blockage is threatening the survival of skin tissue or a muscle, aggressive Atherosclerosis treatment may be required. Surgical procedures for Atherosclerosis include:
- Angioplasty and stent placement: In this operation, a thin, hollow tube is inserted into the portion of an artery that is obstructed or narrowed.
- Endarterectomy: This is an operation on the arteries in the neck, which are the carotid arteries. It is done to surgically remove fatty buildup from the walls of these arteries which increases the flow of blood through these vessels.
- Thrombolytic therapy: Sometimes arteries are obstructed by blood clots and drugs are used to that dissolve blood-clots and break them apart.
- Bypass surgery: In this operation, surgeons harvest a blood vessel from another part of the body and form an alternate path for the blood to flow around the obstructed or blocked the artery, bypassing it.
Two major risk factors for developing are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It’s believed that some herbal supplements and foods may help with Atherosclerosis treatment. Always get your physicians approval before trying any alternative therapies or supplements. Foods and herbals thought to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol include:
- Sitostanol (this is found in an oral supplement and in some margarine)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Oat bran
- Coenzyme Q10
- Cod liver oil
- Blond psyllium
- Beta-sitosterol (found in oral supplements and some kinds of margarine)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Be sure to talk to your physician before adding any supplements to your atherosclerosis treatment. Supplements may interact with other medications and cause dangerous side effects.
Prevention of Atherosclerosis involves making the same healthy lifestyle changes that are recommended to treat the condition. It’s also considered as an Atherosclerosis treatment. They include:
- Losing weight if you need to, and maintaining your weight in a healthy range can help prevent Atherosclerosis
- Quitting smoking and your use of other tobacco products can help prevent Atherosclerosis. Limit your exposure to second-hand (passive) smoke
- Getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of the disease
- Consuming a healthy diet can help lower your risk of Atherosclerosis
Change doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t be overwhelmed by trying to do it all at once. Try to take one step at a time and set goals that are reasonable for you.
Changes in lifestyle can help prevent or delay the progression of Atherosclerosis.
- Quit smoking: Smoking causes damage to the arteries. If you use any form of tobacco, breaking the habit the best way to stop Atherosclerosis from progressing. Quitting can reduce the risk of complications and help with Atherosclerosis treatment.
- Exercise: Regular exercise (more than a couple days of the week) can get your muscles used to using oxygen most efficiently. Physical activity also improves blood flow and promotes the development of new blood vessels and helps with Atherosclerosis treatment. These new vessels help to form a natural path for the blood to flow around blockages. Exercise can help decrease the risk of diabetes and it also lowers blood pressure, which decreases the risk of Atherosclerosis.
- Consume a healthy diet: A healthy diet is one that focuses on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and is often a good option for Atherosclerosis treatment. Limit saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. This will help control your blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Snack on apples or carrots; substitute white bread for whole-grain bread; choose low-fat dairy products. Learn to read food labels so you can make wise choices related to sodium (salt) and cholesterol.
- Maintain a healthy weight: For people who are overweight, losing only 5-10% of their body weight can help with Atherosclerosis treatment and prevent diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for controlling blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
- Manage stress: Learning to manage daily stress can help with Atherosclerosis treatment. Healthy ways to reduce stress include deep breathing, yoga, muscle relaxation and meditation.
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