Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Atherosclerosis refers to fattydeposits formed under the inner lining of the blood vessels. The walls of thevessels become thick and less elastic. The thickened areas are calledplaque.
What is going on in the body?
Atherosclerosis occurs when fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and other materials build up on the inside lining of the arteries. The buildup is more likely to be in parts of the artery that have been injured. Itusually occurs where the artery bends or branches. Once plaque builds up, it may cause the cells in the artery lining to make chemicals that cause more plaque buildup.
Two problems can result from the plaque.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
There are several factors that increase a person’s risk of developing atherosclerosis, such as:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are most affected bythe buildup of plaque. Atherosclerosis can affect the heart, the kidneys, andvirtually any other organ.
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis of atherosclerosis begins with a medical history and physical exam. A variety of special tests can be used to check the width of the openings in the arteries that supply the affected areas.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the disease?
In some cases, atherosclerosis cannot be prevented. A person may be able to reduce his or her risk for developing atherosclerosis in the following ways:
What are the long-term effects of the disease?
Unchecked atherosclerosis will continue to narrow the large and medium arteriessupplying the body’s vital organs. This can result in serious medical problems,such as heart attack, kidneyfailure, and stroke.
What are the risks to others?
Atherosclerosis is not contagious. It does, however, seem to run in families. If one orboth parents have atherosclerosis, a person should make everyeffort to reduce his or her coronary riskfactors. This is especially true for people whose parents developed atherosclerosisearly in life.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the disease?
Treatment of atherosclerosis focuses on lowering a person’s coronary risk factors. Lowering blood cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, and stopping smoking can stabilize plaque.However, these steps may not reverse the process.
A low dose of aspirin taken on aregular basis seems to reduce the development of atherosclerosis and plaque.
Atherosclerosis that progresses far enough to cause symptoms may requiresurgery. Surgery can remove or bypass plaque in the arteries that supply thebrain, heart, kidneys, or legs. Angioplasty is a procedure in which a smallballoon is inserted into an area of plaque. Then the balloon is inflated. When the balloon isdeflated and removed, the opening within the artery is larger. This improves theblood supply.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Medicines used to treat medical conditions may cause allergic reactions. Surgery carries a risk ofbleeding, infection, and allergic reactionto anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the disease?
Most people who have atherosclerosis are encouraged to begin a regularexercise program. A person who has atherosclerosis should make every effort toreduce coronary risk factors.This may include smoking cessation,control of chronic diseases and conditions, and a diet for preventing heart disease.Medicines may need to be adjusted to achieve the best response.
How is the disease monitored?
A person will have regular visits to the healthcare provider, along with teststo monitor the progress of the atherosclerosis. Any new or worsening symptomsshould be reported to the healthcare provider.
Article type: xmedgeneral