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What is Atherosclerosis?

Mar 30, 2017

What is Atherosclerosis?

A type of arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque composed of cholesterol, fat, and white blood cells starts gradually depositing on the inner wall of arteries, making them hard and less elastic.These plaque deposits narrow the lumen of the arteries thereby partially or completely blocking the blood flow. Though the arteries affected by atherosclerosis differ from person to person, the deposition is most commonly seen in large and medium-sized arteries. The most common cause of cardiac arrests, atherosclerosis is slow and takes time to display any symptoms.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. These arteries are lined with a thin layer of cells internally called as endothelium, which keeps the inner walls of the arteries smooth and elastic. More often than not, if this endothelium layer gets damaged because of excessive cholesterol, your body sends white blood cells to repair the damage. But these white cells might get stuck to the sticky cholesterol, thereby leading to plaque build-up.

Certain factors are responsible for the plaque deposition and they are highly related to the patient’s lifestyle and habits. The most common high risk factors that are known to cause plaque deposition are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of fats and cholesterol in the body
  • Smoking
  • Excess consumption of sugar
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic factors

Atherosclerosis can go on for years without exhibiting any signs or symptoms, it starts causing a noticeable problem only when the arteries have become very narrow or there is a blockage due to a blood clot. The most common time when the condition is detected is when the patient has a stroke or a heart attack. The symptoms vary according to the artery the condition has affected. For instance,

  • Coronary arteries: chest pain, short breath, nausea, dizziness, more than usual sweating.
  • Carotid arteries: weakness, muddled thoughts, unstable posture, numbed face, headaches, unconsciousness.
  • Peripheral arteries: numbed and painful arms and legs

The treatment for atherosclerosis is symptomatic i.e. focused on eliminating the symptoms. The first advice for the treatment is a change in lifestyle. If the change in habits is unsuccessful, then doctors prescribe medications. When the condition has progressed to a highly severe one, a surgery is performed, known as the vascular bypass surgery.

Disclaimer: The information given in this write-up is purely for educating the reader. It is not meant to be a substitute for any advice from a medical expert.

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