Your arteries are the carriers of blood from your heart to all the parts of your body. Generally, these arteries are flexible and elastic. But in atherosclerosis, your arteries become thick and stiff. Atherosclerosis refers to the building up of fats, cholesterol, etc. inside your arteries, forming plaques. These plaques could restrict the flow of blood by narrowing your arteries. Sometimes, the plaques could also rupture and burst, forming a blood clot. Even though it is a cardiac problem, an artery in any part of your body could be affected by atherosclerosis. This condition is both treatable and preventable.
Depending on which artery is blocked, there could be various complications arising from atherosclerosis –
Coronary artery disease – When the plaques build up in the arteries near the heart, it leads to coronary artery disease. This may lead to chest pain and heart attack.
- Carotid artery disease – When the plaques are closer to your brain, it is called carotid artery disease. This may lead to a stroke.
Peripheral artery disease – When the plaques are developed in the arteries of hands and legs, the condition is referred to as peripheral artery disease. This disease could lead to insensitivity to heat and cold and in extreme cases, gangrene.
- Aneurysms – An aneurysm is a bulge in the walls of the artery and can happen anywhere in the body.
Chronic kidney disease – If the plaques grow in the arteries that are near the kidney, they decrease the quantity of oxygenated blood that reaches the kidneys. Over a period of time, this could lead to complications in your excretory system.
Because atherosclerosis develops gradually, symptoms do not get displayed until the situation gets worsened and complicated. It might result in an inadequate supply of blood to organs and tissues. Symptoms also depend on:
- The location of the affected artery.
- Heart pressure in the chest and chest pain
- Brain –numbness and weakness in arms and legs, slurred speech, drooping facial muscles, and temporary loss of vision in one eye
- Arms and legs – Leg pain during physical activities
- Kidneys – High blood pressure or kidney failure
Atherosclerosis is thought to begin with a small damage or injury caused to the thin inner layer of an artery called endothelium. The causes could be:
- High amount of triglycerides
- High cholesterol
- Consumption of tobacco
- High blood pressure
- Obesity or diabetes
- Arthritis, lupus, infections and other inflammatory diseases
Atherosclerosis happens due to several risk factors like ageing, lack of physical activities, obesity, diabetes, consumption of unhealthy food, high blood pressure and cholesterol, family history of heart disease, etc.
Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight by regular exercising and healthy dietary food are to be incorporated to prevent atherosclerosis.
How is it diagnosed?
At Sumitra hospital, your doctor may use one or more of these tools to diagnose atherosclerosis –
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Doppler ultrasound
- Ankle-brachial index
- Stress test
- CT-Scan and MRI