Spotlight on Atherosclerosis: The silent killer

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Atherosclerosis involves the gradual accumulation of plaques within the arterial walls. These plaques are composed of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and various other substances present in the bloodstream. As the plaques grow, they cause the arteries to narrow, leading to a reduction in the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to vital organs and tissues throughout the body. This condition is at the core of widespread and serious health issue, cardiovascular disease.

Understanding arterial function and plaque accumulation

Arteries play a crucial role in our bodies, acting as the highways that transport blood from the heart to all the different parts of our system. These vital blood vessels are lined with a delicate layer of cells known as the endothelium, which ensures that blood flows smoothly through them. However, certain risk factors, like smoking or having elevated levels of fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream, can inflict damage on this endothelial lining. When the endothelium becomes compromised, it paves the way for the formation of plaque within the walls of the arteries.

Over time, these plaques can harden, leading to the narrowing of the arteries and restricting the normal blood flow. The consequences of this process are far-reaching, as the reduced blood supply fails to provide organs and other parts of the body with the required oxygen and nutrients. Even more concerning, when these fatty plaques rupture, they give rise to blood clots known as thrombi. These clots can further obstruct blood flow, exacerbating the situation and potentially causing severe consequences for various organs.

Exploring different types of plaque

Plaques, the fatty deposits that can form on the walls of our coronary arteries, come in two distinct types: stable and unstable, each having different effects on our health. Let’s delve into these two plaque varieties to better comprehend their impact on our well-being.

  • Stable plaques, also known as lesions, occur when the walls of the coronary arteries become thickened and rigid due to an accumulation of fatty deposits. This phenomenon is often referred to as clogged arteries.
  • Unstable plaques pose an even greater risk. These plaques have the potential to rupture and detach from the artery wall, resulting in acute events such as heart attacks, strokes, or even fatalities. The instability of these plaques makes them more dangerous compared to stable plaques, as their tendency to rupture can lead to complete obstruction of blood flow.

Impact of atherosclerosis on different body parts

The majority of the arteries in the body, including those in the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis, and kidneys, are susceptible to atherosclerosis. Depending on which arteries are afflicted, it goes by many names.

  • Coronary artery disease is plaque buildup in the arteries of your heart.
  • Peripheral artery disease most often is plaque buildup in the arteries of the legs, but it can also build up in your arms or pelvis.
  • Carotid artery disease is plaque buildup in the neck arteries. It reduces blood flow to the brain.
  • Mesenteric artery is plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the intestines.
  • Renal artery stenosis is plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your kidneys.
  • Vertebral artery disease is plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the back of the brain. This area of the brain controls body functions that are needed to keep you alive.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis

Common symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis in coronary arteries include:

  • Chest pain or angina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Pain while walking

You might not have any symptoms if you have mild atherosclerosis. Heart attacks or even sudden death may result from a severe or sudden obstruction.

Causes of atherosclerosis

Scientists are still unsure of the exact origin of atherosclerosis, but they do know that it is a slow-moving illness that may even start in childhood. There are a number of things that could influence its growth:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Smoking or tobacco
  • Insulin resistance or diabetes
  • Overweight of obesity
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Inflammation from diseases such as arthritis, lupus or infections

Although there can be several reasons for weak heart health, you can discover more about Cardiomyopathy and try the Cardiovascular Disease risk calculator below yourself.

Treatment of atherosclerosis

Some medicine can slow or reverse the effects of atherosclerosis including:

  • Cholesterol medications
  • Anti-platelet medications
  • Beta blocker medications
  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers

People with more severe forms of atherosclerosis may need to have one of the following procedures:

  • Fibrinolytic therapy
  • Bypass surgery
  • Angioplasty and stent placement
  • Endarterectomy

Is Atherosclerosis same as Arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis is a condition that occurs when arteries narrow and harden, which makes them weak. Eventually, they get so weak that they can no longer do their crucial task of carrying blood throughout the body. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances on your blood vessel walls. Atherosclerosis is actually a type of arteriosclerosis — the most common type.

Is it possible to unclog blocked arteries without the use of medications?

It’s challenging to remove plaque from your arterial walls without medication. Plaque can be stopped from developing further by lifestyle changes such as exercise, weight loss, and cholesterol-free eating but it won’t remove existing plaque. Plaques can be reduced with medical treatment, such as with cholesterol-lowering drugs, which can also convert unstable to stable plaques.

What lifestyle changes can I adopt to prevent atherosclerosis?

Eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fats and cholesterol, avoid fatty foods, engage for at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week and maintain a moderate and healthy-for-you weight.

Through this blog, we have explored the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures to tackle this preventable yet significant condition. Together, we can work towards a future where this condition is no longer a burden, and hearts can beat with resilience and vitality.

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