Atherosclerosis Overview:

When the artery walls are deposited with a plaque they are narrowed. Apparently, the blood flow is restricted, and several health complications can arise. This disease is called arteriosclerotic vascular disease or atherosclerosis. Arteries carry the blood to the entire body from the heart, and to ensure the flow of blood is easy and smooth, they have to be healthy. The thin layer of cells lined up on the walls of the arteries is called the endothelium. When this endothelium is damaged, cholesterol is built up in the arteries. The body, however, does not let cholesterol to get deposited there and sends white blood cells to clear it off. Unfortunately, in certain cases, the cholesterol and the white blood cells get stuck together.

Gradually, calcium, macrophages and the cholesterol deposits together form plaque. The substances from the blood too can add to this deposit. In a few cases, the plaque does not grow large enough to cause problems. But in the majority of the cases, the plaque clogs the arteries, and this parentally means that the flow of blood is not smooth. In certain cases, the plaque can break open automatically. The platelets group themselves in the affected area, stick together to form the blood clots, in a few people. This can lead to fatal complications. Heart attack and stroke can be caused due to this.

This is a complex process, and it starts even at the very tender age. From childhood, the condition develops and progresses with age. Recent studies also prove that the same condition can be developed even at the womb. The biggest shock is that the disease never shows its existence until the middle age. The diagnosis at the early stage can bring in medical intervention to treat abnormalities.

Atherosclerosis Symptoms:

Smudges of white blood cells appearing on the artery wall are the first symptom that is seen when one is affected by atherosclerosis. This first happens during the adolescence. Until the flow of blood is restricted, not many symptoms are seen.

Common symptoms:

-  Fatigue

-  Shortness of breath

-  Pain in leg, arm, and in all areas wherever the artery is blocked

-  Confusion if the blockage is in the brain

-  Muscle weakness as the blood flow is not adequate

-  Chest pain

Atherosclerosis can cause heart attack and stroke.  When a heart attack is caused by this condition, the symptoms are:

-  Perspiration

-  Shortness of breath

-  Nausea or vomiting

-  Abdominal pain

-  A sense of awaiting doom

When a stroke is caused by this condition, the symptoms are:

-  Numbness in face or limbs

-  Loss of balance

-  Trouble in understanding speech

-  Vision problems

-  Sudden and unbearable headache

When such symptoms show up, it is essential to go for medical help instantly. Else, they can become a life-threatening situation.

The artery where the plaque happens plays a vital role in the symptoms one experiences.

Carotid arteries:

These arteries are responsible for supplying blood to the brain. When blood supply is not adequate it can lead to a stroke. The initial symptom once faces is a weakness, headache, facial numbness, paralysis, and difficulty in breathing.

Coronary arteries:

These arteries play the role of providing blood to the heart. When the blood supply is messed up to the heart, it can lead to heart attack or angina. Vomiting, over anxiousness, fainting, chest pain and coughing are the symptoms one experiences when the coronary arteries where atherosclerosis occurs.

Renal arteries:

These arteries supply blood to kidneys. When the supply of blood is not sufficient, chronic kidney diseases are developed. Loss of appetite, difficulty in concentrating and swelling of hands are feet are experienced.

Causes of Atherosclerosis:

Endothelium damage is the important cause for the development of this disease. Endothelium can be damaged due to several factors. High blood pressure can put on too much of the stress on the walls of the arteries, causing them to weaken. Smoking is another reason. High cholesterol too can weaken the endothelium. When the walls of the arteries weaken, the bad cholesterol or the LDL cholesterol starts accumulating in the arteries. The buildup in the area can gradually grow huge in size enough to block the arteries itself.

Lots of risk factors are associated with this disease.

- Family history: Toughening of the arteries can happen at any time when the risk of atherosclerosis runs in the family. This is the same as the heart diseases that run in the family.

- Sedentary lifestyle: Exercising mandatorily is one of the ways to keep the entire body healthy. This also ensures that your heart muscle becomes strong. This ensures the flow of blood is adequate to all the parts of the body. When one leads a sedentary lifestyle, it makes it easy for cholesterol to settle in comfortable places.

- High blood pressure: High blood pressure weakens the arteries and their walls. When high blood pressure is not under control, or if it is not managed well, there are huge chances of the arteries wall getting blocked and getting affected by atherosclerosis.

- Diabetes: When diabetes is not managed rightly with medication and lifestyle changes, ending up with coronary artery diseases is not impossible.

- Smoking: Smoking and use of tobacco pave way for all sorts of artery related diseases.

How Atherosclerosis is diagnosed?

A physical check is what the doctor does initially to understand if the patient is affected by atherosclerosis. Weakened pulse is a hint that something is not happening right with the heart. Aneurysm is also checked for. This is the bulging of the artery wall that can restrict the flow of blood to the various body parts. The slow healing of a wound is what the next diagnosis is. However, this is also connected with diabetes. So, the doctor would have to do multiple random tests to find out if this symptom is associated with atherosclerosis.

After the initial tests, a cardiologist would be asked to intervene, if the patient shows sign of the condition. Abnormal sounds are what the cardiologist looks for.  However, a series of other tests are also done.

-  A blood test is recommended to check the cholesterol level. The cholesterol deposits are the major reason for this disease to develop. The cholesterol levels can help in finding the severity of the disease.

-  Ankle-brachial index test is performed. This measures the blood pressure in each limb of the body. This makes it easy to find if there are any blockages in the different parts of the body, especially the arms and legs.

-  Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): The large arteries of the bodies can be imaged using this test.

-  CTA: A computerized tomography also offers the similar results of the MRA. The doctor would recommend both or any of them based on the specific needs and individual condition.

-  Doppler ultrasound: This test makes use of the sound waves. This helps in identifying if there are any blocks present in the arteries.

-  Cardiac angiogram: This test gives the picture of the arteries in the heart. This is required if the arteries in the heart are blocked. However, if the angiogram is recommended even without the confirmation of the condition, it may be because your doctor is yet to diagnose what causes the problem related to your heart.

-  Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test finds the areas of the decreased blood flow, and thereby help in finding if the heart’s arteries are damaged.

-  Stress test: This is an exercise intolerance test. The rate of heartbeat and blood flow are diagnosed using this test. This is done by making the patient run on the treadmill.

Prevention of Atherosclerosis:

Following a healthy lifestyle and sticking to a healthy diet are the vital steps to keep this disease off.

1.     Eating foods that are less in fat contents, and  low in saturated fat helps a lot

2.     Taking fish less than 3 times daily is recommended

3.     Making use of olive oil, walnuts, nuts and seeds often in the diet helps in decreasing the bad cholesterol levels.

4.     Avoiding processed and junks foods really help

5.     Exercising for an hour daily, for 5 days a week is mandatory

6.     Excess weight can lead to a series of health issues and apparently result in all types of heart diseases that include atherosclerosis.

7.     Quitting smoking and alcohol is the wise thing to do if one has to fight with the disease

8.     Stress management plays a vital role. Increased stress can weaken the arteries.

9.     Practising various relaxation techniques helps a lot

10.  Staying in medications and managing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are mandatory.

Atherosclerosis Treatment:

Atherosclerosis can be caused due to various diseases like high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels that are high. So, the treatment includes managing the risk factors. The chances of formation of the blood clots are reduced in the treatment, to ensure the disease is not life-threatening. The clogged arteries are at times widened, and in a few cases, bypass surgeries are also required.

Medications for Atherosclerosis:

-  Medicines to lower the cholesterol levels play a crucial role in treating this disease.

-  The medicines that prevent blood clots formation like aspirin and other anticoagulants are used

-  The blood pressure lowering medicines like beta blockers and channel blockers are prescribed

-  Water pills are given to bring down the blood pressure levels

-  The narrowing of the arteries is prevented by using the Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.


-  A bypass surgery is performed to ensure the flow of blood is not restricted because the artery is blocked. This surgery involves, diverting the blood to the body parts. This is done by using other vessels of the body or synthetic tubes that go around the narrowed arteries.

-  A stent is at times inserted into the artery to open up the blocks and widen the artery. This is done with the angioplasty, which used a catheter and a balloon. The balloon is used to widen the arteries.

-  Certain drugs can dissolve the blood clots formed in the artery. This technique that involves injecting the drugs into the blood vessels is called thrombolytic therapy.

-  Endarterectomy  is the surgical removal of the fatty deposits in the body

-  A catheter and a sharp blade are used to remove the plaque build up in the arteries, and this method is called atherectomy.

Apart from the medications and the various types of surgeries, the doctor and surgeon first start with recommending lifestyle changes.

Complications in Atherosclerosis:

Atherosclerosis can lead to huge complications and they are often severe.

Peripheral, coronary or carotid heart diseases are caused due to this condition. The arteries close to the heart are narrowed, and this can happen to the arteries that are close to the brain or the limbs.

-  The heart finds it difficult to pump adequate blood to the body parts. This means the organs do not get enough blood, and heart has to work a lot. This can result in heart diseases, and heart failure.

-  A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is stopped. This can happen because of the blockages present in the arteries.

-  The functioning of the kidney can be stopped when the adequate blood supply to the kidney does not happen.

-  Fatal internal bleeding can be the result when aneurysm, a condition where the artery bulges abnormally can result.

-  The blockage in the arteries that carry blood to the brain can result in a stroke.

-  Abnormal heart rhythms and palpitations can be caused and result in a condition called arrhythmia.

When affected by this condition, it is wise to seek treatment faster, and stick to it. Understanding that recovery can take a long time is significant to stick to the treatment. This is based on the severity of the condition, and the organ that is affected. Lifestyle changes are mandatory though the patient is on medication. Constant health checkups should be also a part of the routine. If in case, surgeries are performed, the recovery period would be long, and various restrictions of diet and activities would be imposed to ensure that the heart is not overburdened. Speaking to the doctor and getting to know about the complications give a clarity on the disease and the treatment options.

Last updated on : 21-09-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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