What is Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis is a medical condition in which the vessels that carry oxygen and other nutrients from the heart to the other parts of the body become stiff thus affecting normal flow of blood from the vessels to various organs of the body. The arteries may also become hard and stiff with time. Atherosclerosis is caused when there is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and substances in the walls of the arteries restricting the blood flow. Sometimes these substances can result in formation of a clot. Although Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis is a cardiac condition it can also affect other parts of the body as well. Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis is treatable and definitely preventable if proper precautions are taken.

Atherosclerosis

What Causes Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis is caused gradually with time even though it may begin even in early childhood. The exact cause of this disease is still not known although it may be caused as a result of some injury to the arteries. This injury or damage may be caused by the following:

  • Hypertension
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Hypertriglyceridemia
  • Tobacco use
  • Diabetes mellitus

Once the artery gets injured or damaged, then gradual buildup of substances starts resulting in fatty deposits which is made of cholesterol and other products resulting in reduced flow of blood and development of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis. Once this happens then the organs which are connected to these injured arteries do not get adequate blood to function normally.

With time these deposits may break away from arteries and enter the bloodstream. In some cases these plaques may rupture spilling the products in the blood and thus raising the risk of a clot.

What are the Risk Factors for Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Some of the factors that increase the risk of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis are:

  • Hypertension
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use
  • Family history of cardiac problems
  • Sedentary lifestyle

What are the Symptoms of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Mild forms of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis do not cause any symptoms. An individual with this condition will not feel any symptoms until the artery gets so narrowed that it affects the flow of blood. Some of the symptoms that an individual with Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis may experience are chest pain or pressure, sudden episodes of numbness and weakness in the arms or legs in case if the arteries going to the brain gets blocked along with slurred speech, drooping muscles in the face. In case the arteries to the arms and legs get blocked the individual may experience symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Renal function may be affected in case the arteries going to the kidney gets blocked.

How is Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis Diagnosed?

To begin with, the treating physician will take a detailed history looking for any prior family history of the same condition. The physician will also inquire about any habits like smoking or drinking alcohol. In cases of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis, the physician will find signs of the following

  • Extremely weak pulse near the affected artery
  • Decreased blood pressure in the affected extremity
  • The physician may hear bruits over the arteries

Based on the findings the physician may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis:

Blood Tests: Blood test will be done to look for any abnormality in the bloodstream in the form of cholesterol or any other fatty substances.

Doppler Ultrasound: This device will be used for checking blood pressure at different area of the arm or leg to look for any abnormality in the readings.

Ankle-brachial Index: This test can confirmatively inform whether an individual has Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis. The physician may compare the blood pressure in the arm with that of the ankle. This reading is called as ankle brachial index and may confirm the presence of the disease.

Electrocardiogram: This test shows the heartbeat in the form of electrical impulses. This test can show whether there is any abnormality in the rhythm of the heart and whether the heart is functioning normally.

Echocardiogram: This test makes use of ultrasound waves to look at the functioning of the heart. This test can accurately identify any abnormality of the functioning of the heart.

Treadmill Stress Test: This test is conducted to find out the exercise tolerance of the patient and how much distance the patient can cover on the treadmill before the patient starts having symptoms. This is quite helpful in confirming the diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan.

Cardiac Catheterization: This is a minimally invasive test in which a catheter is inserted in the heart through the leg. This test accurately measures the pressure that is exerted on the chambers of the heart.

How is Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis Treated?

The best mode of treatment for Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis is lifestyle modifications in the form of eating a healthy diet, staying away from smoking and drinking alcohol, maintaining an ideal weight, and monitoring the weight. In some cases, medications or even surgery may be required to treat the condition.

Some of the medications that are used for treating Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis are:

  • Cholesterol Medications will be given to lower the cholesterol levels and maintain them at an ideal level.
  • Antiplatelet medications are given so that the platelet may not form a clump in the already narrowed arteries and reduce blood flow.
  • Beta-blockers are given for coronary artery disease. These medications control the blood pressure and relieve the pressure off of the heart.
  • ACE inhibitors may be given for lowering of blood pressure
  • Diuretics may also be given for control of blood pressure.

In some cases, surgical procedures may be needed. Some of the surgical procedures done for Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis are

Angioplasty with Stent Placement: In this procedure the surgeon inserts a catheter into the blocked artery. Another catheter with a balloon at its tip is then inserted through this catheter. The balloon is then inflated thus compressing the fatty deposits. After this a sten is left in this place to keep the artery wide.

Endarterectomy: This is a procedure in which fatty deposits are surgically removed from the narrowed artery.

Bypass Surgery: In this procedure, the surgeon may bypass the narrowed area and join the non-affected area together thus keeping the artery open and wide

What are the Dos and Don'ts When Having Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Some of the measures that one can employ for prevention of complications of Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis are:

  • Staying away from smoking
  • Exercising diligently
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Maintain an ideal body weight
  • Try and reduce stress as much as possible.

What are the Complications of Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis?

Some of the complications of Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis are:

  • Coronary artery disease which may in turn cause heart attack or heart failure
  • Peripheral artery disease is also one of the complications of Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis.
  • Aneurysms can also develop due to Arteriosclerosis or Atherosclerosis.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: April 1, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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