Atherosclerosis, also known as arteriosclerotic vascular disease, is a medical condition in which arteries begin to narrow because of an excessive amount of plaque surrounding the artery wall. This accumulation can interrupt the body's usual blood flow, leading to dangerous possibilities in an individual's cardiovascular system. Though atherosclerosis can affect a variety of arteries, the bigger high-pressure arteries are most often influenced by this vascular condition.
Due to sometimes similar definitions, atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are often used interchangeably. There is a subtle difference between the two terms. Arteriosclerosis refers to the artery walls becoming hardened while atherosclerosis is defined as the artery becoming narrow due to an accumulation of plaque. Those who have atherosclerosis also have arteriosclerosis, but those with arteriosclerosis do not always have atherosclerosis.
Possible Signs of Atherosclerosis
Initial signs of atherosclerosis can emerge as early as adolescence. Due to the variety of arteries that can be affected by this condition, symptoms can vary with each individual and could include the following: weakness, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, swollen hands or feet, numbing of the legs and difficulty with concentration. Vomiting, headaches and facial numbness are also possible.
Causes of Atherosclerosis
This disease is a result of arterial accumulations of both fat deposits and white blood cells, together creating the plaque that can interrupt the body's usual flow of blood. Additional factors that may trigger the development of atherosclerosis are diabetics with consistently high blood sugar levels and those with a family history of this vascular condition. Smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels can also increase one's risk.
Diagnosis of Atherosclerosis
Those with atherosclerosis risk factors should seek medical testing as symptoms may only emerge after the development of the disease. A doctor will thoroughly review medical history, a physical exam and any test results to determine a diagnosis. Medical tests may include blood tests (to measure levels of protein, fat and sugar in the blood), ultrasounds and computed tomography (CT) scans.
Atherosclerosis Treatment Options
Physicians may recommend a variety of treatment options dependent upon each individual's diagnosis. A change in lifestyle may focus on increased physical activity, better nutrition and weight control, often with the help of vaser liposuction. Limiting consumption of alcohol, sodium and saturated fats is often addressed.
High fiber diets are advocated. Medication may be prescribed to deter plaque accumulation and the formation of blood clots. Additional medications may be prescribed in an effort to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure. Surgical procedures for more serious atherosclerosis cases could include angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, both of which aim to improve blood flow.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the most effective prevention against atherosclerosis. Exercise can help to reduce blood pressure and achieve/maintain a sensible weight. Diets low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol levels. Eliminating a smoking habit will reduce blood pressure immediately.