Atherosclerosis Causes And Symptoms

Atherosclerosis is regarded as the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. This is a disease that usually does not show any symptoms until your arteries are severely narrowed or completely blocked. This illness is caused by a slow build up of a material called plaque on the inside walls of the arteries.

The arteries are responsible for carrying blood and oxygen from the heart muscle to the rest of the body.

plaque come in two forms that are known medically as hard and stable and soft and unstable.

This build up material is made up of several substances that are found in the blood.

These substances include:

  • Fat

  • Calcium

Once the build of plaque is severe enough, it can and will cause a restriction in blood and oxygen flow. When the plaque material is of the hard and stable form, it causes the thickening and hardening of the coronary artery walls.

The soft and unstable form of plaque on other hand, can break away from the artery walls and enter the blood stream. If this happens, a possible blood clot could occur which can partially or completely block the artery.

This problem will lead to a restriction in blood and oxygen flow to the area of the body that was being supplied by the blocked artery. Severe organ or cell damage is usually the result of this condition.

It is believed that this condition can begin early in our childhood and progresses as we get older. This condition can and do affect the arteries found in the

  • Heart.
  • Kidneys.
  • Arms.
  • Legs and arms.

Atherosclerosis usually causes serious diseases that lead to serious complications that include:

  • Heart attacks.
  • Angina.
  • Coronary heart disease.
  • Peripheral arterial disease.
  • Strokes.

Statistics reveal that these diseases are considered the leading cause of death in the United States.

Atherosclerosis Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of this disease is unknown, there are certain risk factors that can increase an individual's chance for developing atherosclerosis.

Consequently your chances may increase depending on the amount of risk factors that you may have. Risk factors that may increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis are as follows:

  • Your age - The risks of developing this disease increases even further as you get older. As I mentioned earlier, it is believed that we start to develop this illness during our childhood and it progresses as we get older.
  • Our genders also play an important part as well. For instance men are at greater risk after they pass the age of 45 and women for some reason or another, are at a greater risk after the age of 55.

  • Heart disease in your family.
  • If there is a history of heart disease in your family, then chances are you may develop atherosclerosis.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle).
  • Smoking.
  • Overweight or obesity.

Atherosclerosis Symptoms

An individual would usually does not display any symptoms for atherosclerosis until their arteries are severely narrowed or completely blocked. Symptoms vary according to which particular artery is blocked or severely narrowed.

For instance, if an individual has a blocked or narrowed coronary artery, then their symptoms will be that of coronary artery disease.

This condition is also called coronary heart disease.

If the arteries that supply their brain with blood and oxygen is affected, then the symptoms that they will display will be that of a stroke.

They could also show symptoms of TIA (Transient Ischemic attack) otherwise known as a mini stroke. If a patient is experiencing problems with any other parts of their body such as their legs, arms, or pelvis, then their symptoms will be that of peripheral arterial disease.

Plaque build can also affect the nerves of the kidneys. When this happens, the victim's symptoms will be that of renovascular hypertension.

Diagnosing Atherosclerosis Symptoms  

Just like many other illnesses, diagnosis for a suspected problem does not occur until an individual begins to show signs of its symptoms and complications. This hold true for atherosclerosis as well. There are a number of questions followed by a number of test procedures that a doctor will carry out to determine if an individual has this disease. These questions and procedures include:

Finding out your medical history which will help determine your risk factors.

Finding out if you have a history of this disease in your family.

Conduct a bruit test to determine any abnormalities in the arteries. In case you are wondering, a bruit is an abnormal sound that can be detected or heard with a stethoscope, when it is placed over a blocked artery.

Check the pulse for signs of weakness or to see if they are still present.

Carry out a cholesterol test.

Check your blood glucose level. This can help in determining if you are a diabetic.

Do a electrocardiogram (EKG). This test will measure the rate and regularity of a patient's heartbeat and also help in determining if they have had a minor heart attack.

Conduct a chest x-ray. This will produce a photo that can be examine by the doctor.

Ankle/Brachial Index. This test does a comparison test between the blood pressure in the ankles and the blood pressure in the arms.

Echocardiogram. With this particular test, a moving photo of an individual's heart is produced with the use of sound waves. From this test, doctors can determine the size and shape of the heart and see if there are any indications of malfunction in the chambers and valves.

Because of the uniqueness of this an echocardiogram, it can be used to identify areas of the heart that are not receiving good blood flow, areas that are not contracting properly, and any areas that have been previously exposed to injuries.

There are several types of echocardiograms that a doctor could have done. These include a stress echocardiogram which allows doctors to the heart of a patient by having them perform a series of exercises by injecting a certain medication directly into their bloodstream.

The injected medication causes the patient's heart to beat faster and harder. This procedure is generally carried out to determined if the individual has coronary heart disease, a condition that can cause a decrease in blood flow to the heart.


Angiography. This test allows doctors to see the condition of the inside of the patient's arteries to see if there are any signs of atherosclerosis. A CT-Scan involves having a flexible tube inserted into the artery of either the inner upper thigh or the upper arm, through which a dye that can be trace or seen by an x-ray is injected into the arteries.

The dye will give doctors an indication of how the blood is flowing through the patient's arteries.

Atherosclerosis Treatment

The symptoms and complications of atherosclerosis are very serious and should always be treated as a medical emergency. The best possible treatment for this illness will be determined by your doctor after they have access all of your test results.

Treatment for atherosclerosis involves you making some lifestyle changes that involves:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Your diet should be one that is low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol, much higher in fruits and vegetables. You should also reduce low- fat dairy products.
  • Avoid smoking and if you do smoke, try your best to quit.
  • Get involve in more physical activities as directed by your doctor.
  • Reduce your weight to a safe one. Especially if you are overweight or borderline obese. Have your BMI checked to determined your weight category. If your BMI happens to be 25 and over, then your over weight and heading for obesity.

Medications For Atherosclerosis Treatment

In addition to making a serious lifestyle change, individuals that have been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, have to take certain prescription medications that will help in reversing their condition.

Usually, these are medications used in treating conditions such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and blood clots prevention.

Some prescription medications are also used in preventing platelets from clumping together which can cause blood clots and restrict flow.

Medical Procedures For Treating Atherosclerosis

Apart from prescription medications, there are certain medical procedures that are deemed necessary when it comes to treating atherosclerosis. These include

  • Angioplasty. This procedure involves having a blocked or narrowed artery opened surgically. Sometimes a stent is placed in the open artery which will help to keep it open. Sometimes this stent is coated with a special medication that helps in the treatment. Having an angioplasty done usually relieves a patient of any chest pains or discomforts and it can or may prevent a heart attack.
  • Coronary artery-bypass. This procedure involves having arteries or veins removed from one area of the patient's body and sewn in place as a bypass for the blocked or severely narrowed artery.
  • Carotid artery surgery. This particular surgery removes the plaque build-up directly from the carotid artery in the neck. This will allow more blood and oxygen flow.
  • Bypass surgery of the artery in the legs.

We only have one health, therefore we should do everything within our power to maintain it. By accomplishing this, we can prevent ourselves from developing diseases and other illnesses that shorten our lives drastically.

Of cause there are times when making a few lifestyle changes would be enough; however, it may require more. Take your health seriously and try to avoid stressful situations that will put your health at risk. This includes treating the symptoms and causes of atherosclerosis.

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