Atherosclerosis is a disease that results in the arteries becoming narrowed. the condition can affect arteries in any area of the body and is a major cause of stroke, heart attack and poor circulation in the legs. the arteries become narrowed when fatty substances, such as cholesterol, that are carried in the blood accumulate on the side lining of the arteries and form yellow deposits called artheroma. these deposits restrict the blood flow through the arteries. in addition, the muscle layer of the artery wall becomes thickened, narrowing the artery even more. platelets (tiny blood cells responsible for clothing) may collect in clumps on the surface of the deposits and initiate the formation of blood clots. a large clot may then completely block the artery and result on an organ being deprived of oxygen.
Atherosclerosis is much more common in the US and northern Europe than in developing countries in Africa and Asia. the condition also becomes more common with increasing age. In the US, autopsies on young men who have died in accidents reveal that nearly all have some artheroma in their large arteries, and most people who die in middle age are found to have widespread atherosclerosis when autopsied. however, the condition rarely causes Symptoms until age 45-50, and many people do not realize that they have Atherosclerosis until they experience a heart attack or stroke.
The female sex hormone estrogen helps protect against the development of atherosclerosis,, as a result, the incidence of atherosclerosis is much lower in women before menopause than in men. By age 60, the risk of women developing atherosclerosis has increased until it is equal with the risk for men. however, women who take hormone replacement therapy, which contains estrogen, may continue to be protected.
What are the causes?
The risk of developing atherosclerosis is determined largely by the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream, which depends on dietary and genetic factors. Since cholesterol levels are closely linked with diet, atherosclerosis is most common in western counties where people eat a diet high in fat. Some disorders such as diabetes mellitus can b associated with a high cholesterol level regardless of diet. Certain inherited disorders also result in a high level of fats in the blood.
In addition to high blood cholesterols levels, factors that make atherosclerosis more likely are smoking, not exercising regularly, having high blood pressure, and being overweight, especially if a lot of fat is around the waist.
What are the symptoms?
There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of atherosclerosis. later, symptoms are caused by the reduced or total absence of blood supply to the organs supplied by the affected arteries. If the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle, are partially blocked, symptoms may include the chest pain of angina. if there is a complete blockage in the coronary artery, there may be a sudden, often fatal, heart attack. Many strokes are a result of atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply blood to the brain. If atherosclerosis affects the arteries in the legs, the first symptom may be cramping pain when walking caused by poor blood flow to the leg muscles. If atherosclerosis is associated with an inherited lipid disorder, fatty deposits may develop on tendons or under the skin in visible lumps.
How is it diagnosed?
Since atherosclerosis has no symptoms until blood flow has been restricted, it is important to screen for the disorder before it becomes advanced and damages organs. Routine medical checkups include screening for the major risks factors of atherosclerosis, particularly raised blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes mellitus. Some current recommendations suggest that all adults should have their cholesterol levels measured at intervals of at least every 5 years after age 20.
If you develop symptoms of atherosclerosis, your doctor may arrange tests to assess the damage both to the arteries and to the organs they supply. Blood flow in affected blood vessels can be imaged by doppler ultrasound scanning or coronary angiography. If your doctor thinks that the coronary arteries are affected, an ecg may be carried out to monitor the electrical activity of the heart and imaging techniques, such as angiography and radionuclide scanning may be used to look at the blood supply to the heart. Some of these tests may be done as you exercise to check how the heart functions when it is put under stress.(TMT)
What is the treatment?
The best treatment is to prevent atherosclerosis from progressing. preventive measures include following a healthy lifestyle by eating a low-fat diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, and maintaining the recommended weight for your height. These measures led to lower than average risk of developing significant atherosclerosis.
If you are in a good state of health but have been found to have a high blood cholesterol level, your doctor will advise you to adopt a low-fat diet. You may also be offered drugs that decrease your blood cholesterol level. For people who have had a heart attack, research has shown that there may be a benefit in lowering blood cholesterol levels, even if the cholesterol level is within the average range for healthy people.
If you have atherosclerosis and are experiencing symptoms of the condition, your doctor may describe a drug such as aspirin to reduce the risk of blood clots forming on the damaged artery lining.
What is the prognosis?
A healthy diet and lifestyle can slow the development of atherosclerosis in most people. if you do have a myocardial infarction or a stroke, you can reduce risk of having further complications by taking preventive measures.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.