Atherosclerosis is the buildup of a plaque which consists of cholesterol, fat, and other substances inside the arteries. The condition can cause the narrowing of arteries and restrict the flow of oxygenated blood to your tissues. Atherosclerosis can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Factors that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis include smoking, eating fatty foods, hypertension, and high blood sugar levels due to diabetes or insulin resistance.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms are experienced when there is severe narrowing or blocking of an artery. Depending on the artery affected, the following signs and symptoms may be experienced:
- Coronary arteries: A squeezing type of chest pain that may radiate to the shoulder, neck, arms, jaw, and back as well as shortness of breath.
- Carotid arteries: Weakness, confusion, vision problems, slurring of speech, headache, and loss of consciousness.
- Peripheral arteries: Numbness and pain in the extremities and increased risk of infections
- Renal arteries: Tiredness, nausea, loss of appetite, swelling of hands and feet.
A diagnosis is made based on a review of your symptoms, past medical history, family history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests such as EKG, stress testing, echocardiography, CT scan, and angiogram.
Treatments are aimed at reducing symptoms, lowering the risk of blood clots, and preventing atherosclerosis-related heart conditions. They include living a heart-healthy lifestyle, use of medications, and surgery to widen narrowed arteries.