Atherosclerosis is a condition characterized by hardening and narrowing of the arteries, in a slowly and progressive process. The disease may hinder the proper running of massive blood circulation, obstructing the blood access to the vital organs of the body.
So, atherosclerosis can cause heart attacks, strokes, cerebral or cardiovascular disease. Medical condition can be prevented and treated, if caught in time.
Essentially, atherosclerosis is the result of lipid deposit in vessel walls in the form of atheroma plaque, which reduces vascular lumen and reduces the blood supply to the tissues. Arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood flow from the heart to other organs of the body are lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium. This keeps the inside of arteries toned and roomy for a good blood circulation.
Atherosclerosis is triggered when blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol levels in the body affects the endothelium structure. At this point, the atheroma plaque starts forming, an accumulation of lipids (cholesterol), cells and other debris, which thickens over time and makes more impossible the free passage of blood.
Atherosclerosis may occur in any region of the body, and depending on its location, it triggers a certain disease. For example, if an artery in the proximity of the heart is affected by atherosclerosis, the risk of stroke increases exponentially.
Other factors predisposing to atherosclerosis are:
Taking birth control pills;
Impaired glucose tolerance;
Atherosclerosis shows no symptoms, in general, until the age or mature age. Once the narrowing of one or more arteries dangerously is advancing, blocking the blood at the vessels level can cause pain. Atheroma plaque can break, causing the formation of blood clots.
Symptoms of atherosclerosis may differ depending on the location and dynamics of the atheroma plaques.
Aortic atherosclerosis can produce the appearance of aneurysmal dilatation, or predisposing to aortic rupture or dissection.
Mesenteric artery atherosclerosis can lead to intestinal infarction or mesenteric ischemia.
Atherosclerosis of the arteries which is supplying the brain may lead to ischemic attacks or stroke.
Established atherosclerosis of the lower limbs causes poor blood circulation, followed by pain while walking, impeded wound healing etc.
Atherosclerosis may be suspected by a physical examination with a stethoscope and by palpation of the arteries. Once awakened the suspicion of the disease the specialist performs an electrocardiography, echocardiography, ultrasound arterial angiography or radionuclide scan. Diagnostic procedure is decided by the doctor.
Coronary angiography is a highly accurate diagnostic method but is also the most invasive procedure. This is done by inserting a catheter equipped with video camera in a peripheral blood vessel and guiding the instrument until the cardiac unit.
Any plaque or obstruction is visible through this exam during which the patient is awake but sedated. The procedure can take a half hour to 2 hours, depending on the complexity of each case.
Once the atherosclerosis was formed at the level of blood vessel, it cannot be permanently removed by treatment. Instead, the administration of specific medication and healthy changes in living arrangements can stop the evolution of the atheroma plaques growth, and even their reduction to a certain level.
Lifestyle changes refers to reducing the risk factors that generally lead to the onset of atherosclerosis, such as eating high saturated fat, smoking and physical inactivity. These measures do not cure atherosclerosis, but it obstructs the evolution and prevents heart attacks and strokes.
The administration of medications to reduce cholesterol levels and decrease high blood pressure (keeping blood pressure under 135/90 mm Hg) and they can stop the expansion of atherosclerosis. It also requires reducing dietary salt.
To help, it can be also the detection of glucose intolerance or diabetes, which usually accelerates atherosclerosis as well as adopting proper treatment of these medical conditions.
Statins, given to patients with atherosclerosis have significant cholesterol-lowering effect, also stabilizing atheroma plaque. Antiagregantes plaquetarios administered in small daily doses, decrease the risk of major vascular accidents.
Invasive treatments can also be used to unblock the arteries affected by atheroma plaque. These are cardiac cauterization by angiography of the coronary arteries and bypass surgery, both involving risks of potentially fatal complications.
Atherosclerosis is the progressive disease, but can also be prevented. There are nine risk factors responsible for about 90% of cases of heart:
Lack of fruits and vegetables;
Abuse of alcohol;
Lack of exercise.
All these factors have something in common, may be removed from our lives, this being the most effective strategy to prevent atherosclerosis. Doctors recommend to people who have a moderate or high risk of developing the disease, the administration of aspirin daily, which prevents blood clotting in the arteries or veins.
Good stress management, a diet low in saturated fat, avoiding sedentary and maintaining the normal abdominal circumference are important measures for prevention of atherosclerosis, also for its potentially fatal complications.