Atherosclerosis

August 5, 2010

Atherosclerosis Can be Described as Hardening of The Arteries!

Atherosclerosis information:What is atherosclerosis?

The build up of plaque inside of blood vessels resulting in the reduction of the diameter of the blood vessel with consequent reduction of blood flow and formation of blood clots if the plaque is ruptured or dislodged.  Plaque is made up of:

  • fatty substances
  • cholesterol
  • waste products from cells
  • calcium
  • iron
  • fibrin
  • Atherosclerosis is a progressive condition and in general the main cause of heart disease. In lay terms it is described as "hardening of the arteries".

    What is the difference between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis?

    Arteriosclerosis is a general term describing the thickening and hardening of arteries. Atherosclerosis is a hardening of an artery specifically due to plaque build up. Atherosclerosis is the most common form of arteriosclerosis.Often atherosclerosis is also just called arteriosclerosis.

How do you get atherosclerosis?

The main cause is thought to be the outcome of the body’s response to damage to the artery wall from cholesterol, high blood pressure and cigarette smoking.

Other causes include:

  • High triglycerides. Levels above 400mg/dL have been implicated in the development of atherosclerosis
  • Lack of exercise
  • There  is increased risk in diabetics. Risk can be lowered by keeping the diabetes under control
  • Obesity
  • Heredity
  • Gender. Men are more likely to have heart attacks before the age of 60 than women
  • Age. Men at 45 or older and women at 55 or older are at a higher risk of suffering from atherosclerosis

 

How does atherosclerosis develop?

    The development of atherosclerosis probably begins by damage to the endothelium(the single layer of cells that lines blood vessels).  This damage causes cholesterol and fat to penetrate into the vessel walls and deposit there.  This action also encourages cells in the damaged area to grow. Calcium salts are also deposited there. 

    Factors that can cause the single layer of cells that line blood vessels to get damaged are:

  • High content of blood fat and especially saturated fat
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • High blood pressure
  • High content of “bad cholesterol” in the blood serum and low content of “good cholesterol”
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High content of the amino acid homocystein in the blood serum
  •  

    Many of these factors are ultimately caused by a bad diet and lack of daily exercise.

     

    What are the symptoms?

    The symptoms vary depending on where the atherosclerosis has occurred:

  • Chest pain, heart attack and sudden death if it occurs in the heart arteries
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, loss of speech if it occurs in the carotid arteries of the brain
  • Cramping and fatigue in the calves of the legs when walking if it occurs in the femoral arteries of the legs
  • High blood pressure which is resistant to treatment if it occurs in the arteries of the kidneys

 

Diagnosis

    Physicians can listen to the activity of the arteries with a stethoscope or they can carry out an electrocardiogram and stress test to study the heart’s activity under normal circumstances and during exercise.

    They can carry out: echocardiography, which is ultrasound to examine the heart valves and chambers; ultra-sonography, to assess arteries of the neck and thighs, radionuclide angiography and thallium scanning to study blood flow through the heart and arteries. In the latter technique radioactive material is injected into the blood stream.

How to treat atherosclerosis

Most common treatments emphasize lifestyle and dietary changes, regular exercise and a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar, and high in fibre, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Medical intervention include balloon angioplasty and coronary artery bypass surgery.

Drug treatment is mainly to treat the contributors to the disease like high cholesterol, blood clots and high blood pressure.

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