What is Arteriosclerosis?
Arteriosclerosis is a condition in which the arteries become stiff and narrow. A common type of arteriosclerosis is atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up on the inside walls of arteries, making them thick and inflexible. This can impede blood flow to your organs and tissues.
What are the Causes of Arteriosclerosis?
Although the exact cause of arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis is unknown, it may begin with damage or injury to the inner layer of arteries due to:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Smoking and other tobacco products
What are the Symptoms of Arteriosclerosis?
Mild arteriosclerosis usually doesn't have any symptoms. Symptoms of moderate to severe arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected and may include:
- Chest pain or pressure (angina) when the heart arteries are involved
- Sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or drooping muscles in your face when arteries leading to your brain are involved
- Leg pain when walking (claudication) or decreased blood pressure in an affected limb with atherosclerosis involving the arteries of the arms or legs
- High blood pressure or kidney failure when arteries leading to the kidneys are affected
Diagnosis of Arteriosclerosis
Your doctor will review your medical history, family history, and symptoms, and based on this a physical examination will be performed. A stethoscope is used to listen to the sounds made by the arteries as blood flows through them. Certain diagnostic tests may be performed which include:
- Blood Tests: To check your blood sugar and cholesterol levels as raised levels increase the risk of atherosclerosis. The levels of certain proteins are also checked to see if arterial inflammation is present.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test records the heart’s electrical activity.
- Echocardiogram: This test helps to view the heart’s size, structure, and motion using sound waves.
- Exercise Stress Test: This test is performed to determine how well your heart responds to physical stress. You will be asked to exercise on a treadmill while being connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine.
- Doppler Ultrasound: A special ultrasound instrument (Doppler ultrasound) may be used by your doctor to evaluate blood flow and determine the blood pressure at different regions along your arm or leg.
- Coronary Calcium Scan: This test helps detect calcium levels in the coronary arteries.
- Cardiac Catheterization: This is a minimally invasive procedure in which a catheter is inserted into a vessel in your arm or leg and is guided to the heart where a dye is released into the coronary arteries. This helps your doctor visualize any area of blockage or narrowing on X-rays.
- Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI): This test can determine if you have atherosclerosis in the arteries in your legs and feet.
What are the Treatments for Arteriosclerosis?
Treatments for arteriosclerosis include a healthy diet, exercise, medication, and sometimes surgical procedures.
Many different drugs are available to slow or even reverse the effects of arteriosclerosis. Some of these medications include:
- Statins and other cholesterol medications are prescribed to lower cholesterol, improve artery health, and prevent atherosclerosis.
- Your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medications such as aspirin, to reduce the risk of platelet clumping in narrowed arteries and forming blood clots.
- Blood pressure medications can prevent complications related to atherosclerosis such as a heart attack.
If you have severe symptoms or a blockage, your doctor may recommend the following surgical procedures:
- Angioplasty and Stent Placement: This procedure helps open a clogged or blocked artery and keeps the vessel open with the help of a stent.
- Endarterectomy: Extensive plaque buildup on the walls of an artery may require surgical removal. Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure to remove plaque from the carotid artery in the neck.
- Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: Your doctor uses a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body or synthetic material to create a bypass around the blocked artery, diverting blood flow.
Healthy lifestyle changes recommended for treating atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:
- Following a heart-healthy diet
- Avoid smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining blood sugar levels if you are diabetic
- Controlling stress