The blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart and circulate it through our body are called arteries. Atherosclerosis is a disorder of the arteries wherein due to excess cholesterol and fatty deposits as well as thickening of the arterial walls, the arteries narrow down and restrict the flow of blood.
Atherosclerosis generally shows no symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms start to show when the blood supply is crucially affected. These symptoms may include:
- There may be chest pain due to blockage in the coronary artery
- One may experience a sudden heart attack, which may also prove to be fatal
- If the arteries supplying blood to the brain are blocked there are chances of a stroke
- Blockages in the arteries of legs can cause pain and cramping
- Excess fatty deposits under the skin can also develop visible lumps in the affected area
Excess cholesterol levels and fatty deposits building up on the walls of arteries result in atherosclerosis. Hence, a sedentary lifestyle and an improper, fatty diet are considered to be the prime factors leading to the condition. Diabetes is also closely associated with atherosclerosis; the possibility of diabetics developing this disorder is higher. Another factor that triggers atherosclerosis is smoking.
- Bring in dietary changes; stick to low fat diet
- Pledge to stay active – jog, walk and exercise
- Say no to smoking
- Control your weight and keep diabetes in check
Since there are no visible symptoms during the initial stages of atherosclerosis, it is important to undergo regular check ups if you are overweight or suffer from any other cardiovascular disease. It is very important to start a treatment before the condition aggravates.
These routine check ups include screening for major risk factors like:
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
Atherosclerosis can also be diagnosed by Doppler ultrasound scanning or coronary angiography to identify a blocked artery or restricted blood flow. An ECG or radionuclide scanning can also determine the obstacles in the flow of blood to the heart. In some cases of atherosclerosis the person is asked to do some exercise so that the doctor can track the functioning of the heart when it is put under stress.
Treatment for the condition depends on the severity of the disorder and at what stage it has been diagnosed. Initially, a bit of self help and cholesterol lowering drugs can prove to be useful in treating atherosclerosis. Sometimes, drugs like aspirin, which prevent blood from clotting are also prescribed.
If the condition is in a later stage and the coronary arteries are blocked, invasive treatments such as coronary angioplasty and stenting are advised. These invasive treatments involve inflating a balloon inside the arteries to make way for blood to pass through. In case the blood flow is severely obstructed, the doctor will advise a bypass surgery in order to restore the blood flow.