What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which excessive plaque accumulation on and around the artery wall causes hardening and narrowing of arteries. As a result, the arteries are blocked and blood flow to different organs is blocked. A common cause of heart attacks and strokes, arthrosclerosis tends to progress silently, slowly affecting arterial function and blood flow throughout the body and resulting in serious cardiovascular problems.
Lined by endothelium or a thin layer of cells, arteries carry blood from the heart to different parts of the body. Endothelium is responsible for keeping the inside of these blood vessels toned and smooth in order to ensure smooth circulation and flow of blood. However, damage to the endothelium due to smoking, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol can result in plaque buildup, often resulting in atherosclerosis.
Besides, other risk factors may include diabetes, air pollution, and genetics.
Any damage to endothelium results in the gradual accumulation of LDL or bad cholesterol in the artery wall. As a result, the body takes an action to clean up the cholesterol by sending macrophage white blood cells. However, if the cells get stuck at the affected site, it results in the gradual buildup of plaque, which comprises macrophage white blood cells and bad cholesterol.
Plaque accumulation clogs up the artery, which affects blood flow throughout the body, raising the risk of formation of blood clots. Blood clotting is a dangerous condition that raises the risk of other life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular problems, heart attack and stroke.
The symptoms of the disease primarily depend on the type of arteries affected:
Carotid arteries supply blood to the brain. Any disruption in this blood supply to the brain can cause brain stroke. Other symptoms include:
- Breathing problems
- Facial numbness
Coronary arteries supply blood to the heart. Disruption of the blood circulation to the heart raises the risk of angina and heart attack. Other symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Extreme anxiety, fatigue
- Feeling faint
Renal arteries are responsible for blood supply to the kidneys. Limited supply of blood to kidneys risks causing chronic kidney disease, resulting in the following symptoms:
- Concentration problems
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Loss of appetite
Peripheral arterial disease is a condition in which the arteries connecting the limbs are affected or blocked. Since these primarily involve legs, pain in one or both legs, thighs, calves, or hips is common The patient may experience cramping, heaviness, or dullness in the leg muscles. Some other symptoms include:
- Numbness, weakness in legs
- Color change of the skin on legs
- Overgrowth of toenails
- Hair loss on legs or feet
Treatment for Atherosclerosis
It is important to make lifestyle changes in order to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. You can lower your risk of plaque buildup by starting on a healthy dietary and exercise regimen and cutting down on your sugar intake. Your doctor may suggest foods rich in soluble fiber while reducing the consumption of alcohol sodium, or saturated fats.
Some statins or blood thinners are recommended for people with a high risk of atherosclerosis. Surgery is often the last resort when it comes to treating plaque accumulation on arteries.