Atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease risk, causes, symptoms, and treatment

By: Devon Andre | Blood Pressure | Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 04:00 PM

atherosclerosis-cardiovascular-disease-risk-causes-symptoms-and-treatmentAtherosclerosis cardiovascular disease is a condition in which the arteries become hardened and narrow due to excess plaque buildup. When this occurs, blood flow becomes disrupted, which can lead to heart complications and poor overall health as other parts of the body require a blood supply to function properly.

Blood flow can occur because of endothelium, a layer of cells lining the arteries and keeping them smooth. As the endothelium becomes damaged, this is when atherosclerosis sets in. Damage can occur due to LDL cholesterol, which accumulates along the artery walls.

The body has its own mechanism to remove this excess cholesterol by sending out white blood cells, but the cells can get stuck to the affected area, resulting in further plaque buildup.

Types of atherosclerosis

There are four types of atherosclerosis: coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, and kidney disease. The types of arthrosclerosis get their names depending on the arteries they affect.

For coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis occurs in the coronary arteries.

Peripheral artery disease occurs in the legs, arms, and lower body, leading to problems with circulation in the extremities.

Carotid artery disease affects the arteries in the neck and the brain’s blood supply, causing lack of blood flow to the brain.

Kidney disease is the reduction of blood flow to the kidneys.

Atherosclerosis causes, symptoms

As mentioned, atherosclerosis is caused by the plaque buildup in the arteries, making them stiff and hard, reducing blood flow to other parts of the body. LDL cholesterol is a large contributing factor to atherosclerosis, as it can get built-up along the artery walls. White blood cells intended to clean up the buildup can get stuck too, further contributing to the health problem.

Other causes of atherosclerosis include high blood pressure, smoking, and high levels of glucose in the blood (unmanaged diabetes). Genetics and air pollution can contribute to atherosclerosis as well. Individuals who have a sibling or parent with atherosclerosis are at an increased risk for the condition.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis are dependent on the type of the condition. \

Carotid arteries:

  • Weakness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Headache
  • Facial numbness
  • Paralysis

Coronary arteries:

  • Vomiting
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Feeling faint

Kidney arteries:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Difficulty concentrating

Peripheral artery disease:

  • Hair loss on legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Numbness in legs
  • Changes in skin color
  • Thicker toenails
  • Leg weakness

Atherosclerosis treatment, diagnosis

preventing atherosclerosis plaque buildupThere are numerous ways to diagnose atherosclerosis. For starters, your doctor may perform a blood test to measure fat, sugar, and protein content in the blood. High levels of these can provide insight into plaque buildup along the arteries.

A physical exam will also be performed to listen to your heart and blood flow, check for a weak pulse, which is a sign of poor blood flow, check blood pressure, and check for any wounds that may not be healing due to blood flow reduction.

An ultrasound can also be utilized to get an inside image and check for changes in blood pressure in different areas in the body. Lastly, your doctor can request a CT scan to get detailed images of the inside of your body.

There are three main types of treatment options when it comes to atherosclerosis: lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery.

Because many lifestyle habits contribute to hardening of the arteries, addressing them can help improve the condition. This involves eating healthy, reducing sodium and saturated and trans fats in your diet, not smoking, and exercising regularly.

Prescribed medication works to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and even prevent blood clots (known as anteplatelets).

Lastly, surgery can be used to open up and widen the arteries in order to improve the blockage.

Atherosclerosis vs. arteriosclerosis

Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, although share some similarities, are two different conditions. Both conditions involve hardening of the arteries, but for different reasons. In arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries occurs due to loss of elasticity in the arterial musculature. This can come with aging, and when elasticity is lost, thickening occurs and may lead to hardening.

In arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries causes blood pressure to go up because the blood flow cannot pass through as effectively, worsening the disease over time.  In arteriosclerosis, the arteries do not become narrow as they do in atherosclerosis, but they simply are not as flexible, thus negatively impacting the blood flow.

Atherosclerosis can be more life-threatening than arteriosclerosis, but both conditions are serious as they cause the heart to work harder to keep the blood supply traveling throughout the body.

Lastly, unlike atherosclerosis, which has numerous treatment options, there is no cure for arteriosclerosis, as there isn’t a way to improve artery elasticity as of yet.

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