Atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis: Develops gradually and often without any symptoms, until narrowed or blocked arteries may not supply enough blood to organs and tissues.
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. Healthy arteries are flexible, strong, and resilient. Over time, however, too much pressure in the arteries can make the artery walls thick and stiff, sometimes restricting blood flow to organs and tissues. This process is called arteriosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis meaning: Atherosclerosis is a specific form of arteriosclerosis, but the term is sometimes used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis involves the accumulation of fat in and on the artery walls, which can restrict blood flow. These plaques can also break apart, causing a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in the body. Atherosclerosis is a preventable and treatable problem.
Atherosclerosis develops gradually. Mild atherosclerosis usually does not have any symptoms.
There are usually no symptoms of atherosclerosis until the artery is narrowed or blocked. It cannot supply adequate blood to organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot forms or even breaks off and can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Symptoms of moderately severe atherosclerosis depend on the arteries affected. For example:
If you have atherosclerosis in your heart arteries, you may have symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, such as angina.
If there is atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the brain, there may be signs and symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, or drooping facial muscles. These are signs of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which, if left untreated, can progress to a stroke.
If there is atherosclerosis in the arteries in the arms and legs, there may be symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as leg pain when walking.
Sometimes atherosclerosis is the cause of erectile dysfunction in men.
If you think you have atherosclerosis or risk factors for hardening of the arteries, talk to your doctor. Also pay attention to early symptoms of insufficient blood flow, such as angina, pain, or numbness in the legs. Diagnosis and treatment can stop atherosclerosis and prevent medical emergencies.
Atherosclerosis progresses slowly, disease progression can begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis can begin with damage or damage to the inner layer of an artery. Damage can be caused by:
High blood cholesterol, usually too much cholesterol in the diet.
Smoking and other sources of nicotine.
When the inner layers of an artery are damaged, blood cells called platelets often stick to the site of the injury to try to repair the artery, leading to inflammation. Over time, a plaque made up of cholesterol waste and other cellular products also builds up at the site of injury and hardens, narrowing the arteries. Organs and tissues connected to blocked arteries do not receive enough blood to function properly.
Eventually, the plaque can break off and enter the bloodstream. This can cause a blood clot to form and damage organs, such as during a heart attack. A blood clot can also travel to other parts of the body and partially or completely restrict blood flow to another organ.
Atherosclerosis occurs over time, factors that increase the risk of atherosclerosis include:
High blood cholesterol.
Family history of aneurysm or early heart disease.
The complications of atherosclerosis depend on the location of the blocked arteries. For example:
Coronary artery disease. When atherosclerosis causes narrowing of the heart's arteries, coronary artery disease can develop, which can cause angina or a heart attack.
Carotid artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows an artery close to the brain, carotid artery disease can develop, which can cause transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
Peripheral artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries in the arms or legs, circulation problems in the arms and legs can develop, known as peripheral artery disease. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, increasing your risk of burns or frostbite. In rare cases, people with poor circulation in the arms or legs can cause tissue necrosis.
Arterial aneurysm. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in the body. Pain and throbbing in the area of the aneurysm is a common symptom. If an aneurysm ruptures, you may face the threat of internal bleeding. Although this is usually an unexpected catastrophic event, slow blood leakage is possible. If a blood clot breaks loose in an aneurysm, it can block an artery at some point in the distance.
Preparations for medical examination
If you think you may have atherosclerosis or are worried about having it because of a family history of heart disease. A blood cholesterol test will be done.
Because visits are limited in time, and because there are often many issues to address. Here's some information to help get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What can be done?
Be aware of any limitations prior to a medical examination. As well as performing the exam, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as dietary restrictions. Many blood tests, including cholesterol, blood fats, blood sugar, and others, require rapid advance.
Write down any symptoms you are experiencing. Atherosclerosis rarely has symptoms, but it is a risk factor for heart disease. Telling your doctor if you have symptoms such as angina or shortness of breath can help your doctor decide how to aggressively treat atherosclerosis.
Record key personal information, including a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, or diabetes, and any key points for emphasis or recent life changes.
Make a list of all your medications, as well as any vitamin supplements you're taking.
Take a family member, if possible. It can sometimes be difficult to remember all of the information given during an exam. Someone traveling with can remember something lost or forgotten.
Be prepared to discuss diet and exercise routines. If you're not following a regular diet or exercise routine, be ready to talk to your doctor about any challenges you may face in getting started.
Time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help make the most of your time. List of questions from most important to least important in case time is limited.
For atherosclerosis pathophysiology, some basic questions to ask your doctor:
What kind of tests should be done?
What is the best treatment?
What foods should be eaten or avoided?
What is the appropriate level of physical activity?
How often is a cholesterol test needed?
What are the alternatives to the proposed primary treatment?
There are other conditions. How can best manage them together?
Are there any restrictions that need to be followed?
Are there other alternative medications prescribed?
Are there any brochures or other printed materials that can be taken home?
In addition to the questions you have prepared to ask your doctor, do not hesitate to ask questions at any time without understanding something.
Your doctor will likely ask some questions:
Is there a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease?
What is your diet and exercise routine like?
Are you smoking?
Has your cholesterol been checked before? If so, what was the cholesterol level on the final test?
Is there any chest discomfort or pain in the legs with walking or resting?
Have you had a stroke or unexplained numbness, tingling, or weakness on one side of the body, or trouble speaking?
What can be done in the meantime?
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods, and being physically active. These are the main things to prevent atherosclerosis and its complications, including heart attack and stroke.
Testing and atherosclerosis diagnosis
Your doctor may find signs of narrowing, widening, or hardening of the arteries during the physical exam. These include:
The pulse is weak or absent below the narrowed area of the artery.
Decrease in blood pressure affected extremities.
Intra-arterial murmur when listening with a stethoscope.
Signs of an aneurysm in the abdomen or behind the knee.
Evidence of delayed wound healing in areas where blood flow is restricted.
Depending on the results of the physical exam, your doctor may recommend one or more diagnostic tests, including:
Blood tests. The test can detect elevated cholesterol and blood sugar levels that can increase the risk of atherosclerosis. You will need to go for the test without eating or drinking anything but water for 9 to 12 hours before the blood test. Your doctor will let you know ahead of time when this test will be done during your visit.
Doppler ultrasound. Your doctor may use a special ultrasound device (Doppler ultrasound) to measure blood pressure at different points along the arm or leg. Measurements can help your doctor assess the extent of any blockages, as well as the speed of blood flow in the arteries.
Index ankle, arm. This test can tell if there is atherosclerosis in the arteries in the legs and feet. Your doctor may compare blood pressure in your ankle with blood pressure in your arm, called the ankle-brachial index. Abnormal differentiation may indicate peripheral vascular disease, which is often due to atherosclerosis.
Electrocardiogram (ECG). A record of electrical signals as they pass through the heart. An ECG can often reveal evidence of a previous or ongoing heart attack. If signs and symptoms occur most often during exercise, your doctor may ask you to walk on a treadmill or ride a bicycle while doing the ECG.
Stress test. Used to collect information about how the heart is performing during physical activity. Because exertion makes the heart pump harder and faster during everyday activity, stress testing can reveal problems in the heart that may go unnoticed. Stress testing usually involves walking on a treadmill or cycling, while heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing are monitored.
Cardiac catheterization and angiography. This test can show narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. A liquid dye is injected into an artery of the heart through a catheter, usually in the leg, to the arteries in the heart. With arterial staining, the arteries become visible on radiographs, revealing areas of obstruction.
Diagnostic imaging. Your doctor may use ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRA) to study the arteries. These tests can often show stiffness and narrowing of the large arteries, as well as aneurysms and calcifications in the artery walls.
Treatments and drugs
Lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy diet and exercising, are often the best treatment for atherosclerosis. But sometimes, medication or surgery may be recommended.
Many medications can slow or sometimes even reverse the effects of atherosclerosis. Here are some popular atherosclerosis medication choices:
Cholesterol-lowering drugs. Lowering low-molecular-weight lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can slow, stop, or even reverse the buildup of fat in the arteries. Promotes high molecular weight lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Your doctor may choose from a range of cholesterol-lowering medications, including drugs called statins and fibrates.
Antiplatelet drugs. Your doctor may prescribe antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin, to reduce the chance of platelets sticking in narrowed arteries, forming a blood clot, and causing a blockage.
Beta-blockers. These drugs are commonly used for coronary artery disease. Lower heart rate and blood pressure more, reduce myocardial oxygen demand, and often relieve symptoms of chest pain. Beta-blockers reduce the risk of heart attack and heart rhythm problems.
ACE inhibitors. These drugs may help slow the progression of atherosclerosis by lowering blood pressure and causing other beneficial effects on the heart arteries. ACE inhibitors may also reduce the risk of recurrent heart disease.
Calcium channel blockers. These antihypertensive drugs are sometimes used to treat angina.
Diuretic. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis. Diuretics will lower blood pressure.
Other drugs. Your doctor may recommend certain medications to control specific risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as diabetes. Sometimes medication to treat symptoms of atherosclerosis, such as leg pain during exercise, is indicated.
Sometimes more aggressive treatment is needed. If symptoms are severe or a blockage threatens the survival of muscle or skin tissue, surgical procedures may be needed:
Angioplasty. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a tube into the inside of the artery. A second catheter with a balloon on top then passes through the catheter into the narrowing area. The balloon is then inflated, compressing the artery wall. A mesh tube (stent) is often placed in the narrowed artery to help keep the artery open.
Intra-arterial removal (endarterectomy). In some cases, plaque in the wall of a narrowed artery must be surgically removed.
Thrombolytic treatment. If there is an artery blocked by a blood clot, your doctor may prescribe a clot-busting drug to break it up.
Shortcut surgery. The doctor can create a bypass using a piece of blood vessel from another part of the body or a tube made of synthetic fabric. This allows blood to flow off through the narrowed artery.
Lifestyle and remedies
Lifestyle changes can help prevent or slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
Stop smoking. Smoking often causes damage to the arteries. If you smoke, quitting is the best way to stop the progression of atherosclerosis and reduce your risk of complications.
Exercise most days of the week. Regular exercise can direct your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. Physical activity can also improve circulation and promote the growth of new blood vessels that form a bypass around a natural obstruction (the bladder). Exercise helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes. Ideally, 30-60 minutes of exercise should be exercised most days of the week. If you can't fit it in one session, try to break it up into about 10 minutes. Maybe take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk around during lunchtime, or stand or push while watching TV.
Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet that's based on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium can help control weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Try substituting whole-grain bread for white bread; Eat apples, bananas, or carrots and read nutrition labels to control salt and fat intake.
Lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, losing weight can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two of the main risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. Losing weight helps reduce your risk of diabetes or control the condition if you already have diabetes.
Stress management. Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy techniques for stress management, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
If you have high cholesterol, raised blood pressure, diabetes, or another chronic illness, work with your doctor to manage the condition and promote general health.
It is thought that certain dietary supplements may help reduce high cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressure, two major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. With your doctor's approval, consider these additional products:
Cod liver oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids.
Talk to your doctor before adding any of these supplements to treat atherosclerosis. Some supplements can interact with medications, causing harmful side effects.
You can also practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing, to help relax and reduce stress levels. These practices can temporarily lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended for treating atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:
Eat healthy foods.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Drink alcohol in moderation.
Just remember to change one step at a time, and keep in mind what lifestyle changes are manageable in the long run.