Atherosclerosis is type of arteriosclerosis in which fatty deposits build up along the inner walls of arteries, restricting blood flow to the rest of the body. Fatty buildups, known as plaques, may also burst, resulting in a blood clot. It is a disease that is both preventable and treatable, and while it is often considered a disease of the heart, it can occur elsewhere in the body.
There are several somewhat uncontrollable factors that have been tied to atherosclerosis, such as diabetes, advanced age and genetic susceptibility. Controllable causes include a poor, high-fat diet, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse. As fatty deposits build up in the interior artery walls, they harden into calcium deposits and eventually the arteries harden, becoming less flexible and making it more difficult for blood to flow freely. These deposits, called plaques, can break apart and block blood flow, potentially causing such events as a stroke or heart attack.
Symptoms of atherosclerosis generally are not present until the artery involved becomes severely restricted or completely blocked. The symptoms that present because of this depends on where in the body the arteries have become clogged. If it occurs near the heart, it can cause a heart attack. If it occurs in the arteries that led to the brain, it can result in a stroke. If it affects the arteries leading to your limbs, it can cause intermittent pain while walking or using the affected limb.
Oftentimes early atherosclerosis is found when performing routine blood tests based upon such factors as LDL cholesterol level, lipid profile, blood triglyceride levels, CBC count and various others. Preventative treatment is then generally administered to prevent the disease from progressing and causing cardiovascular disease. Various forms of imaging can be used within the arteries to determine the stage of the condition, including echocardiography, nuclear imaging, CT scanning or an MRI.
First and foremost, lifestyle changes must be made to exclude the activities and dietary excess that led to the condition in the first place. This entails a better, planned, balanced diet and quitting smoking or drinking. Medicines prescribed include drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. If conservative treatment does not aid in lessening the symptoms of the disease, invasive procedures such as angiography, stenting, and bypass surgery may be performed.
Atherosclerosis leads to heart disease which is the number one killer of adults in the United States. If not promptly diagnosed and treated, it can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and death. Because oftentimes the diagnosis only occurs after a major event, such as a heart attack or stroke, prognosis can be considered poor as both events can be fatal in and of themselves. With proper treatment, the symptoms can lessen and the arteries can regain some of their flexibility, but preventative measures taken to prevent the development in the first place are a much more effective means of controlling the disease.
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