Arteriosclerosis is a disease characterized by stiffening and thickening of the blood vessels. This narrows the arteries and restricts the flow of blood to the organs and tissues.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis in which plaque formation restricts the flow of blood. Plaque is formed of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other components found in blood. A piece of plaque from the artery may break off triggering a clot inside the blood vessel.
Blood clot may also form on the surface of the plaque inside the vessel. Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are used interchangeably for thickening and hardening of arteries.
Atherosclerosis may result in heart attack or stroke. These conditions can be prevented and treated successfully.
Atherosclerosis may not have any symptoms until the blockage in the vessel is significant. The plaque buildup may completely block the artery or a plaque break off may trigger heart attack.
Some of the common symptoms of the disease include:
Angina – characteristic of plaque formation in the arteries of heart
Peripheral artery disease – the person may feel leg pain while walking or any other activity when arteries of legs and arms are blocked.
Kidney failure – it is a characteristic symptom of atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to kidneys. The patients may have swelling in hands and feet, lack appetite, and have difficulty in concentrating.
Atherosclerosis of the arteries supplying to brain may lead to:
Blood cells and other substances accumulate at the site of an injury in the blood vessel. Over a period of time, cholesterol, fat, and other substances in blood accumulate in the same site, hardening the arteries.
This buildup narrows the arteries and restricts the flow of blood to the organs. The fatty deposits on the inner wall of the artery may break off and enter the blood stream.
It may also lead to the rupture of the inner lining of the artery, triggering a blood clot. Blood clots restrict the flow of blood to organs.
Major risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis include:
Making a diagnosis of Arteriosclerosis / Atherosclerosis is done by several tests.
Physical examination helps to reveal narrowing and hardening of arteries characterized by weak pulse below the artery, reduced blood pressure in the affected region, and whooshing sound over the affected arteries.
Blood tests are used to assess the levels of sugar, fat, cholesterol, and triglycerides in blood. High levels of these components indicate risk of plaque buildup.
Blood pressure at different points of the body is measured using ultrasound. These measurements enable to gauge the extent of blockage in different arteries.
Plaque buildup in limbs is detected using ankle-brachial index. In this test, the blood pressure of the ankle is compared to that of the arm. Abnormal changes in the index indicates peripheral vascular disease.
ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart. This helps to locate areas of restricted blood flow in the organ.
Imaging techniques like magnetic resonance arteriography (MRA) and computed tomography angiography (CTA) are used to visualize the details of the structure and blood flow in the large arteries of the body.
Cardiac angiogram is a procedure in which a radioactive dye injected into the blood helps to visualize the structure of blood vessels.
Stress test or exercise test is used to monitor the functioning of heart during a physical activity. This helps to reveal abnormal changes like blood pressure, chest pain, heart rhythm, or heart rate.
Lifestyle changes and medications are the treatment strategies for controlling atherosclerosis. Some common medications used in the treatment of this condition include:
Cholesterol medications – these medications are used to lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein. Statins and fibrates are commonly used as cholesterol medications.
Anti-platelet medications – these drugs lower the chance of platelet buildup in narrow arteries. It also help to prevent the formation of clots in arteries. Aspirin is a commonly used anti-platelet medication.
Beta blocker – these medications lower the heartrate and blood pressure, two major risk factors for atherosclerosis. It also reduces the chances of coronary artery disease.
ACE inhibitor – or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, lower blood pressure and the risk of plaque buildup.
Calcium-channel blockers – these medications are also effective in lowering blood pressure. It is commonly used to treat angina.
Diuretics – diuretics or water pills are used to treat blood pressure, a risk factor for atherosclerosis.Other medications are prescribed based on the risk factor like diabetes.
Surgical procedures are recommended when the symptoms are severe.
Angioplasty – in this procedure, a catheter with a balloon is guided to the narrow artery. Once in place of plaque buildup, the balloon is inflated compressing the plaque on the wall. A stent is then placed in the artery to keep the blood vessel open.
Endarterectomy – in this surgical method, the fat buildup on the arterial wall is surgically removed.
Fibrinolytic therapy – in this method, a clot-dissolving drug is used to break the plaque buildup.
Bypass surgery – a graft made up of vessel from another part of the body is used to create a bypass for the block in the artery. Synthetic fabric is also used to make a graft.
Lifestyle changes are the ideal steps for preventing and treating atherosclerosis. Most important among them are:
Healthy diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol
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