What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is also known as arteriosclerotic vascular disease or ASVD. It is a particular type of arteriosclerosis in which an artery wall gets thickened as an effect of attack and accumulation of white blood cells and rupture of the intimal smooth muscle cell producing a plaque. It is an early form of heart disease, where plaque builds up inside the veins and restricts the flow of blood to the major organs of the body.
Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the veins because of the built plaque. As you get older, cholesterol and fats can gather in the arteries and create plaque, which makes it difficult for the blood to flow through the arteries. This buildup can result in a shortage of oxygen and blood in various tissues of the body. If this plaque breaks off into pieces, it can cause a blood clot. If neglected, atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Causes of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a disease that gradually develops and may begin as early as childhood. The particular cause of atherosclerosis is indefinite, but it may start with harm or injury to the inner coating of a vein. The damage may be triggered by the following factors:
- increased blood pressure
- increased levels of cholesterol
- high triglycerides (a type of fat or lipid in the blood)
- cigarette smoking and the use of other tobacco products
- swelling due to arthritis, lupus, or other types of infection
Usually, when the inner linings of the artery are damaged, they are also exposed to the clotting of the blood and other impurities at the site.
Over the years, cholesterol and other cellular products start to solidify and narrow the arteries. The narrowing of the arteries can cause the organs to malfunction as the arteries are unable to provide adequate blood for them to efficiently perform. The narrowing might also lead to fatty deposits entering the bloodstream after they break off from the buildup.
Moreover, the bloodstream might also be affected after the solidified cholesterol and cellular substances rupture and break off. It can lead to the clotting of blood, which in turn can block the flow of blood to some specific parts of the body. Clotting and the inaccessibility of blood might also lead to heart attack or heart failure if left untreated.
The symptoms of atherosclerosis vary. Generally, the symptoms depend on the arteries and the regions they are in.
Carotid arteries are the arteries that supply blood to the brain. If in case the supply of blood to the brain is restricted, it might lead to stroke and cause other health issues such as:
- trouble breathing
- lack of sensation in the facial area
Coronary arteries are the ones that supply blood to the heart. When there is an insufficient blood supply to the heart, angina (congestive heart failure) and heart attack may happen. Such conditions have indications that include:
Renal arteries provide blood to the kidneys. If the blood flow to the kidneys is insufficient, there is a risk of developing a chronic kidney disease, where a patient experiences the following symptoms:
- loss of hunger and appetite
- inflammation or puffiness of the hands and feet
- have a difficulty staying focused
Peripheral Arterial Disease
In a peripheral arterial disease, the arteries connecting to the limbs, generally, the legs, are jammed and congested. The most common indication is leg pain, sometimes in both legs. Normally, this pain occurs in the calves, thighs, or hips. The pain may be labeled as one of weightiness, cramps, or lifelessness in the leg muscles. Other signs may include:
- alopecia (patchy hair loss) on the legs or feet
- erectile dysfunction or impotence
- lack of leg sensations
- skin discoloration on the legs
- slow growth of the toenails
- leg weakness and feebleness
In this type of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque takes place inside the arteries that are located inside the brain. If an individual has cerebral atherosclerosis, they can suffer from far more serious problems such as stroke due to the fact that blood is unable to properly reach the brain. Doctors and medical professionals can diagnose this condition through tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test or through angiograms.
How to Prevent Atherosclerosis
You need to keep your heart healthy to prevent atherosclerosis. A heart-friendly lifestyle is a must to avoid this kind of disease. Here are some advice and recommendations for a healthy heart:
- stop smoking
- manage your blood pressure
- restrict sugar in your diet as much as possible
- live a stress-free life
- live a toxin-free life by avoiding tobacco products, pesticides, pollution, and industrial chemicals
- stay natural by consuming an organic diet
- include nutritional supplements that have anti-inflammatory elements
As mentioned above, a few lifestyle changes are important to be implemented. Along with the changes, you need to appropriately take your medications or may have to go for surgery as well.
There are many types of medications that can slow down the effects of atherosclerosis. Some of them are cholesterol medicines, antiplatelet drugs, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.
Beta blocker drugs that relieve chest pain, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics to lower the blood pressure are all prescribed by doctors.
Angioplasty and stent placement, fibrinolytic therapy, endarterectomy, and bypass surgery are the prominent surgical measures for the treatment of atherosclerosis.
At present, a proper and total cure for atherosclerosis does not exist. The condition still remains as an ailment that can be managed by taking a few precautions, and with time, can also be prevented from recurring.
For the prognosis of this disease, a person, first and foremost, needs to make lifestyle changes. Eating healthy, maintaining an optimum body mass index (BMI), and being physically active can all help in the recovery from atherosclerosis. Some doctors even advise against smoking or drinking if the problem persists. Combining a good, healthy lifestyle and following the prescribed treatment can help you get better from the disease.
When bad cholesterol (known as LDL), crosses the damaged endothelium, it is possible for it to penetrate the walls of the arteries, which causes the white blood cells to respond and try to digest the LDL. This response causes the cholesterol and cells to affect the blood flow.
A person above 40 has a 50 percent higher chance of developing serious atherosclerosis. The risk also increases with age. For this reason, it is very important to have routine medical checkups even if you don't have prominent symptoms of the disease.