The specific form of arteriosclerosis is atherosclerosis, but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis refers to the accumulation of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the walls of your artery (plaque), which may restrict blood flow.
The plaque may burst, triggering a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart issue, it can affect arteries in your body anywhere. Atherosclerosis is treatable and can be prevented.
What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a hardening and narrowing of your arteries. As your arteries become blocked, it can put blood flow at risk. Arteries are the blood vessels which carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body from your heart.
Fats, cholesterol, and calcium may gather in your arteries and form plaque as you get older. Plaque buildup makes it hard for the blood to flow through your arteries. In any artery in your body, including your heart, legs, and kidneys, this buildup may happen.
In different tissues of your body, it can result in a shortage of blood and oxygen. Plaque pieces can also break off, causing a clot in the blood. Atherosclerosis, if left untreated, can lead to heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
Atherosclerosis, associated with aging, is a fairly common problem. This condition can be prevented and there are lots of successful treatment options.
Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
Until your artery is almost closed, or until you have a heart attack or stroke, you might have no symptoms. Signs may also depend upon which artery is blocked or narrowed.
Angina or chest pain
Shortness of breath
Confusion, which happens if the blockage affects your brain's circulation
Numbness or weakness in your arms or legs
Knowing the symptoms of heart attack and stroke is important too. Atherosclerosis can cause both of these and require immediate medical attention.
Causes of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease which can start at a young age. Atherosclerosis can start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery, although the exact cause is unknown. The damage may be due to the following:
High blood pressure
Inflammation, like from arthritis or lupus
Insulin resistance, Obesity or diabetes
Treatment for Atherosclerosis
It's usually there to stay once you have a blockage. But you can slow or stop plaques with medication and lifestyle changes. With aggressive treatment, they may even shrink slightly.
Changes in lifestyle: By taking care of the risk factors, you can slow down or stop atherosclerosis. That means a healthy diet, physical activity, and no smoking. These changes will not remove blockages but they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Medication: High cholesterol and high blood pressure medicines will slow down, and may even stop atherosclerosis. They may also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.