- What Is
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a disease of blood vessels. In this condition, the innermost layer of the blood vessels (endothelium) is constricted by the deposition of fat, calcium and cellular debris. Atherosclerosis leads to the narrowing of the artery, which in turn reduces the flow of blood passing through it. The reduced blood flow results in a depletion of the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the affected part of the body.
Atherosclerosis can lead to further complications such as:
- Coronary heart disease: Build-up of the fatty substance (plaque) in the arteries supplying blood to the heart.
- Angina: Chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscles.
- Carotid artery disease: Plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the brain. These are situated in the neck.
- Peripheral artery disease: Plaque in the arteries that supply blood to the legs.
- Chronic kidney disease
What is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis?
Arteriosclerosis is a broader term for the condition in which the arteries narrow and harden, leading to poor circulation of blood throughout the body.
Atherosclerosis is a specific kind of arteriosclerosis, but these terms are often used interchangeably. Both conditions lead to decreased blood flow to other parts of the body.
What are the main causes of atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease, which may either start in childhood or late adulthood. The exact cause of atherosclerosis is still unknown; however, plaque formation begins when there is damage to the endothelium of the artery. Some of the most common factors which are more likely to cause this damage are:
Other risk factors include:
What are the signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis?
Early atherosclerosis does not present any symptoms. Symptoms may appear once the artery starts to become narrower. Symptoms may occur depending on the arteries that are affected. The various symptoms are:
How is atherosclerosis diagnosed?
Early diagnosis of atherosclerosis is important to prevent further complications. The physician evaluates the medical history and looks for the symptoms to diagnose atherosclerosis. Tests depend on the arteries that are affected. The various tests which help in diagnosing atherosclerosis are:
How is atherosclerosis treated?
The treatment approach of atherosclerosis involves:
- Controlling risk factors
- Controlling blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels
- Smoking cessation
Medications which are effective in lowering cholesterol levels include:
Antiplatelet medications can be used to prevent blood from clotting or clogging arteries.
Antihypertensive medications such as diuretics or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) may be used to control blood pressure.
Which lifestyle changes help treat and prevent atherosclerosis?
Lifestyle changes help treat as well as prevent atherosclerosis. The lifestyle changes that can be helpful include:
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Can Peripheral Artery Disease Affect the Heart?Peripheral artery disease is a condition in which extremities (usually the legs) do not receive sufficient blood flow due to the narrowing of or blocks in arteries. Peripheral artery disease is also likely to be a sign of more widespread accumulation of fat deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis or plaque).
Carotid Arteries Disease PictureAlso called carotid artery stenosis, the term refers to the narrowing of the carotid arteries. See a picture of Carotid Artery Disease and learn more about the health topic.
Carotid Artery Disease
The term carotid artery disease refers to the narrowing of the carotid arteries and can also be called carotid stenosis. Fatty substance buildup and cholesterol deposits, called plaque are the cause of the narrowing arteries. Carotid artery disease can be treated by following recommended lifestyle changes, taking prescription medications, and considering a procedure to improve blood flow, if your doctor believes it could help.
Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG)Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is performed to relieve angina in individuals who have failed medical therapy and are not good candidates for angioplasty (PTCA). CABG surgery is ideal for individuals with multiple narrowings in multiple coronary artery branches. Mortality and complications increase with:
- older age,
- poor heart muscle function,
- disease obstructing the left main coronary artery,
- chronic kidney failure,
- and chronic lung disease.
Coronary Heart Disease Screening Tests (CAD)
Coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease (CAD) screening tests can be used to potentially prevent a heart attack or cardiac event in a person without heart disease symptoms, and can assist in diagnosing heart disease in individuals with heart disease symptoms. Examples of coronary heart disease tests include:
- electrocardiogram (ECC, EKG),
- exercise stress test,
- radionuclide stress test,
- stress echocardiography,
- pharmacologic stress test,
- CT coronary angiogram, and
- coronary angiogram.
Heart disease (coronary artery disease) occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Heart disease can lead to heart attack. Risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
Angina, shortness of breath, and sweating are just a few symptoms that may indicate a heart attack. Treatment of heart disease involves control of heart disease risk factors through lifestyle changes, medications, and/or stenting or bypass surgery. Heart disease can be prevented by controlling heart disease risk factors.
What Is a High Ankle-Brachial Index?An ankle-brachial pressure index (ABPI) or ankle-brachial index (ABI) is the ratio of the systolic (upper) blood pressures (BP) of the ankle to the upper arm (brachium). Ankle BP is indicative of arterial disease. Lower ankle BP in the leg suggests blocked blood vessels due to peripheral artery disease (PAD) or atherosclerosis.