Atherosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body (arteries) become thick and stiff. They end up restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. Healthy arteries are elastic and pulsating, but over time the arterial walls can harden, a condition commonly referred to as atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a specific type of hardening of the arteries, but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in and on artery walls (plaque) that can limit blood flow. The plaque may rupture, causing a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often seen as a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in the body. Atherosclerosis can be prevented and treated.
Symptoms of atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis develops gradually, and usually has no symptoms. You won’t usually have symptoms of atherosclerosis until the artery is so narrowed or blocked that it can’t supply enough blood to your organs and tissues. Sometimes, a blood clot completely blocks blood flow, or even opens up and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. For example:
If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of your heart, you may have symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure (angina).
If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your brain, you may have signs and symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or loss of muscles in your face. These symptoms indicate a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which, if left untreated, can progress to a stroke.
If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries in your arms and legs, you may have symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication).
If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your kidneys, you have high blood pressure or kidney failure.
When do you consult a doctor?
If you think you have atherosclerosis, talk to your doctor. Also watch out for early symptoms of insufficient blood flow, such as chest pain (angina), leg pain, or numbness.
Early diagnosis and treatment can worsen atherosclerosis and prevent a heart attack, stroke, or other medical emergency.
the development of atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that can begin in childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis can begin with damage to the inner layer of the artery. Damage can be caused by:
- – high pressure
- – high fat
- High triglycerides, a type of fat (fat) in the blood
- Smoking and other sources of tobacco
- Insulin resistance, obesity or diabetes
- Inflammation caused by diseases such as arthritis, lupus, infections or infections of unknown cause
Once the inner lining of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other materials often clump together at the site of the injury and build up in the artery’s inner lining.
Over time, fatty deposits (plaques) made of cholesterol and other cellular products also build up at the site of the injury, hardening and narrowing the arteries. Organs and tissues connected to the blocked arteries do not receive enough blood to function properly.
Eventually, pieces of fatty deposits can break off and enter the bloodstream.
Also, the smooth lining of the plaques can rupture, causing cholesterol and other substances to leak into the bloodstream. This can cause a blood clot to form, which can block blood flow to a specific part of the body, such as when a blockage in blood flow to the heart causes a heart attack. The blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body, blocking the flow to another organ.
Atherosclerosis risk factors
Atherosclerosis occurs over time. Besides aging, factors that increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis include:
- – high pressure
- – high fat
- – diabetes
- – fatter
- Smoking and other tobacco uses
- A family history of early heart disease
- – Lack of exercise
- Unhealthy diet
The complications of atherosclerosis depend on the blocked arteries. For example:
Coronary artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries near your heart, you can develop coronary artery disease, which can cause chest pain (angina), a heart attack, or heart failure.
Carotid artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries near your brain, you can develop carotid artery disease, which can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
Peripheral arterial disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries in your arms or legs, you may develop circulation problems in your arms and legs called peripheral arterial disease. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, increasing the risk of burns or frostbite. In rare cases, poor blood circulation in the arms or legs can lead to tissue death (gangrene).
– Aneurysm. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in the body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of an artery. Most people with aneurysms have no symptoms. Pain and throbbing can occur in the area of an aneurysm and is a medical emergency. If the aneurysm ruptures, you may experience life-threatening internal bleeding. Although it is usually a sudden and catastrophic event, slow leakage is possible. If a blood clot is dislodged in the aneurysm, it can block the artery at a distant point.
Chronic kidney failure. Atherosclerosis can cause the arteries leading to the kidneys to narrow, preventing oxygenated blood from reaching them. Over time, this can affect kidney function, preventing waste products from leaving your body.
The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended to treat atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:
- – stop smoking
- – Eat healthy foods
- – Exercising regularly
- – Maintaining a healthy weight
Remember to make changes one step at a time, and remember the lifestyle changes that are most manageable for you in the long run.
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