Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart throughout your body. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing and hardening of the arteries due to the build-up of cholesterol, fats, and other substances on the artery’s walls. Due to this plaque build-up, the artery got narrowed and caused blockage of the blood flow. Atherosclerosis can lead to cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular diseases.
Causes of Hardening of the Arteries
The endothelium is the thin layer of cells that surround the arteries and keep them smooth and in shape for blood flow. When the plaque accumulates in the walls of arteries, it can also damage the endothelium and causes Atherosclerosis. Following are some of the leading causes of the deterioration of endothelium:
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Excessive smoking
- Inflammation due to lupus, psoriasis, or arthritis
- Insulin resistance
- Use of tobacco
Atherosclerosis is a slow-working disease that affects the person over time.
Symptoms of Hardening of the Arteries
Atherosclerosis usually does not have symptoms in its early stage. Its symptoms typically appear when the condition turns severe; the arteries are blocked or narrow and cannot supply proper blood to organs and tissues. Following are the symptoms of Atherosclerosis in different parts of the body:
- When Atherosclerosis affects the heart, the patient might feel symptoms of angina, arrhythmia, breathing shortness, and chest pain.
- When it affects the arteries in your legs and arms, the patient might feel the symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as decreased blood pressure in the affected limb and leg pain during walking.
- In case of effect on kidneys, the patient might feel symptoms of high blood pressure and kidney failure.
- Lastly, when it affects the brain arteries, the patient might feel severe symptoms such as difficulty in speaking, drooping facial muscles, paralysis, severe headache, loss of eyesight or vision, and Weakness or numbness in the legs and arms. The patient may feel transient ischemic attack symptoms, leading to stroke.
Diagnosis of Hardening of the Arteries
During diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, family history, and symptoms you are currently experiencing. He also performs your physical exam through a stethoscope to detect weak or absent pulses. He may ask for the following test for in-depth diagnosis:
- Ankle-brachial index: It is a quick and non-invasive test that compares the blood pressure in your arm and lower leg.
- Blood test: It is used to detect the sugar and cholesterol levels in the blood that increase the risk of Atherosclerosis.
- Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram is ultrasound testing used to detect the heart valves and chambers functioning. In this test, the doctor uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal heart structure to see the defect in the heart’s functioning.
- Electrocardiogram: An electrocardiogram is a standard, painless test that records the heart’s electrical activity. It is used to detect the position and size of your heart chambers. Electrocardiogram will also help the doctor to determine the enlargement of heart chambers and arrhythmia.
- Stress Echo: The stress Echo or stress Echocardiography is a test used to determine the working of your heart and the blood vessels. During these tests, the doctor may ask you to exercise on a treadmill or on a stationary bicycle to examine your heartbeat and blood pressure.
- Coronary angiography: This test shows the presence of any blockage in blood vessels and arteries. During the conduction of this test, an x-ray machine is used to get a clear image of blood vessels, arteries, and capillaries. For this, the doctor will inject a liquid dye into the artery through a flexible tin plastic tube called a catheter.
Treatment of Hardening of the Arteries
The blocked arteries can be treated with the help of various medications and lifestyle changes.
- Lifestyle changes: You can stop or slow down the plaque accumulation in arteries by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising correctly, and avoiding smoking. These treatment methods help prevent and remove the blockages in the artery walls.
- Medications: To remove fats and cholesterol in the walls of arteries, your doctor may recommend medication such as drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol. This medication helps remove plaque and slow down Atherosclerosis, lowering the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Following are some other invasive techniques that help to treat Atherosclerosis:
- Stent placement: Stents are tiny, expandable metal mesh coils inserted into the arteries to keep the passageway of arteries open. It will be used in nearly all angioplasty procedures. It is primarily placed in the newly opened area of the artery. Its purpose is to save the artery from narrowing and closing again and again.
- Bypass surgery: In bypass surgery, the doctors will replace the blocked portion of the artery with a healthy vein, and the blood will quickly pass out from that artery to the heart muscles. This vein may be a part of your leg or an artery from your chest.
- Endarterectomy: It is a surgical process used to open the blocked blood vessels and improve blood flow. In this procedure, the doctor opens arteries in your neck, removes the plaque from it, and closes it with stitches.
- Fibrinolytic therapy: In this therapy, the doctor gives you drugs to dissolve the blood clots that cause the blockage in the arteries.
Atherosclerosis is a disease that affects the person over time when it turns severe. The diseases or conditions which increase the risk of Atherosclerosis include:
- Unhealthy diet
- High blood pressure
- Lack of physical activity
- Use of smoking and tobacco
- Sleep apnea
- Family history of heart disease
- High levels of C-reactive proteins in the body
If Atherosclerosis gets complicated, the patient might experience the following diseases:
- Heart failure
- Coronary heart diseases
- Peripheral artery disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart attack
Following lifestyle changes help to prevent Atherosclerosis and keep the arteries healthy:
- Regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Maintain a good and healthy weight
- Maintain a healthy blood sugar level and cholesterol
- Avoid smoking and use of tobacco
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure