Over 20 million American adults have some form of coronary artery disease. One of the most common disorders, atherosclerosis, can impair blood flow through major arteries. Atherosclerosis can trigger a heart attack or stroke if it goes untreated, a worrying fact when you consider that it often presents no obvious symptoms.
Fortunately, you can fight back against atherosclerosis once you understand your risk factors, what symptoms to watch out for, your medical treatment options, and how to minimize the development of the condition through healthy lifestyle choices. Check out these key facts about atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis Counts as a Form of Arteriosclerosis
You might get the terms atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis mixed up, especially since some people use them interchangeably. Arteriosclerosis encompasses several conditions that cause narrowed or stiffened arteries, resulting in poor blood flow. Atherosclerosis is the most common form of arteriosclerosis.
While other varieties of arteriosclerosis may involve scarring or calcification of the artery walls, atherosclerosis specifically involves the buildup of fatty substances such as cholesterol. These fat deposits reduce the inner diameter of the arteries, limiting or even cutting off oxygen and blood supplies to other parts of the body.
Atherosclerosis Involves Many Risk Factors and Symptoms
While researchers can’t point to any single reason an individual might get atherosclerosis, they have identified a variety of risk factors that can make you more vulnerable to its development and progression. Examples include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and saturated fat consumption.
Atherosclerosis can progress for a long time without creating any noticeable symptoms. The symptoms it does create can vary depending on which arteries suffer from impaired blood flow. You might experience chest pain, leg pain, weakness in the extremities, loss of facial or visual function, or even kidney failure.
Cardiovascular Specialists Can Treat Atherosclerosis
Regular physical exams can help your primary physician identify a potential case of atherosclerosis in its earliest stages. You may then receive a referral to a cardiovascular specialist who will run additional tests. These tests may include Doppler sonography, CT imaging, X-rays with the use of an injected dye, and other sophisticated techniques.
Medications can often treat mild to moderate atherosclerosis with success. For instance, you might take drugs to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, control high blood pressure, and anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs to prevent unwanted blood clotting that might contribute to a stroke or heart attack.
A severely blocked artery that poses an immediate threat may call for surgical intervention such as angioplasty. In an angioplasty, the surgeon uses a catheter and special equipment to remove or compress fatty deposits, improving blood flow. The surgeon might also insert a mesh device called a stent to keep the artery propped open.
The most severe arterial blockages may require bypass surgery. In this procedure, the surgeon takes a blood vessel from elsewhere in your body and implants it to serve as a working replacement for the blocked artery.
You Can Reduce Your Atherosclerosis Risks
Whether you already have atherosclerosis or not, you can take steps to reduce the risks associated with this condition. Healthy dietary changes can offer a simple yet crucial preventative measure. Minimize your consumption of saturated fats in favor of whole grains, fish, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.
If you weigh too much, this shift to a healthy diet may help you avoid another risk for atherosclerosis — obesity. Regular exercise can aid these efforts while also giving your cardiovascular system a healthy workout.
Tobacco use presents one of the more avoidable atherosclerosis risk factors. If you currently smoke, do everything you can to stop immediately.
If you know or suspect that you suffer from atherosclerosis, pay a visit to the Cardio Vascular Institute. Our heart and blood vessel experts can evaluate your condition, administer whatever treatment you might need, and counsel you on smart home health and wellness practices. Contact our office for an appointment.